The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City is currently exhibiting the work of nine contemporary Tibetan artists who incisively and imaginatively reinterpret the highly formalized tradition of Tibetan Buddhist art.
Tradition Transformed: Tibetan Artists Respond marks the first exhibition of contemporary Tibetan art in a New York City museum. The nine Tibetan artists featured each explore contemporary issues—personal, political, and cultural—by integrating the centuries-old traditional imagery, techniques, and materials found in Tibetan Buddhist art with modern influences and media.The exhibition began with an invitation: the nine artists were asked to submit new and recent works that served as the show’s formative voice and inspired the curatorial response. Specific works by the same artists were then selected from New York private collections in order to complement the new pieces and highlight each artist’s range.
Tradition Transformed represents the unique position of this groundbreaking generation of Tibetan artists that includes Gonkar Gyatso, Tenzing Rigdol, Losang Gyatso, and Dedron. Several of the artists were born in Tibet while others come from Nepal or one of the large Tibetan settlements in India. Three continue to work in their Himalayan homelands, though the majority have emigrated to Europe and the United States. All have benefited from the possibilities of technology, travel, and personal artistic freedom, which inform their individual responses to the complex interaction between the traditional and the modern in both art and culture.
The combination of exquisite artistry and earnestly affectionate, inquisitive, and at times irreverent engagement with the inherited iconography makes for a vibrantly multi-layered experience, as well as a lucid critical interrogation, not only of traditional forms of devotion and depiction as they are transmitted, rehabilitated, and transmuted across borders and epochs, but also of the very notion—the possibility and the value—of preserving (or, perhaps, perseverating) “tradition.” The works featured in the exhibition are, across the board, clever but not cheeky, innovative but not amnesiac.