This weekend, we’re checking out the Rubin Museum of Art’s unparalleled collection of Himalayan art, a serious hidden gem of the New York art scene. We’ll also stop by Raines Law Room down the street, an old-school speakeasy with a hell of a cocktail menu. The Clemente exhibition featured in this post closed on February 2nd. To stay updated on what's going on right now, sign up for our #YourArtWeekend newsletter here.
THE ART /
We’ve heard the Rubin described as the most peaceful place in New York City, and it’s hard to argue with that claim. It has an incredible collection of art from Tibet and the surrounding regions, and the works are presented in distinct and appealing ways that allow visitors to engage with the historical and spiritual context of the art in front of them.
You can interact with every piece of artwork in this museum on more than one level. Aesthetically, the painting and sculpture in the Rubin’s permanent collection dazzle with color and suggestion of movement. Many have an almost psychedelic quality to them -- dense with layers of human and semi-human figures, bright pigments and elaborate ornamentation. There is also an underlying symbolic structure to the art at the Rubin, a strict visual language of religious and historical symbols that connect each piece to the larger canon of Buddhist and Hindu art. No hand gesture or sitting posture is arbitrary; some are familiar (the lotus position is associated with meditation), while others might require a bit of wall-panel research (a three bladed dagger symbolizes cutting through ignorance, desire and hatred). There is a richness of language and narrative in this art that makes spending time with a piece uniquely satisfying.
A centerpiece of the museum’s collection is its “Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room,” a small dark room packed with religious sculpture, Tibetan furniture and hung with scroll paintings. The mantras may be pre-recorded and the candles electric, but the Shrine Room offers you an opportunity to see some beautiful Himalayan art in a context much more fitting than a glass display case.
Another highlight is the small room decorated with the “Lukhang Murals,” perfect replications of the 18th-century murals that adorn the walls of the Dalai Lamas’ secret temple in Lhasa. (The current Dalai Lama hasn’t been to the real Lukhang since he fled from Tibet in 1959.) The murals are so dense with figures and symbols -- some representing religious figures and deities, others offering visual instruction on meditation practices -- that you could spend a whole afternoon staring at the hundreds of people and scenes on the walls.
On the top floor, the Rubin is currently housing Francesco Clemente: Inspired By India, an exhibition of the Italian painter’s art inspired by the years he’s spent in India. There is a temple-like setup to the show, with paintings and sculptures placed in apse-like offshoots of the central skylit space. Particularly impressive are a series of small watercolors called “Sixteen Amulets for the Road,” whose symbol-heavy visual poetry matches the much older work downstairs.
Gallery admission is free every Friday from 6 to 10, so head over to the Rubin after work for some well-earned relaxation -- a perfect start to your art weekend.
WHAT TO DO AFTER /
The Raines Law Room is a classic speakeasy just down the block, on 17th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. It’s small, elegant and almost as peaceful as the Tibetan Shrine Room at the Rubin. The door is always locked, but just ring the doorbell outside and head in to enjoy a Paper Plane, a Spyglass or (to keep with the Asian theme) a Jasmine.
Photo credit: Bowen Dunnan and @_a_b_r_a at the Rubin, eateryROW and 6sqft at Raines