Archive for the ‘Asian art’ Category

the making – and unmaking – of a sand mandala   Leave a comment

Art? Ritual? Devotional image?  Sand mandalas made by Tibetan Buddhist monks are all three plus much in-between.   In February I spent five days watching them make a mandalaat the Mattie Kelly Arts Center of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida. My report is in yesterday’s WSJ and, here below, are photos I took throughout the process.

The monks are from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in south India; they are in the US for about 15 months, based out of the Mystical Arts of Tibet in Atlanta.  From here they travel across the country creating sand mandalas, chanting and/or performing Tibetan music and dances.


Frames rule   1 comment

Slap a piece of wood around a painting, and you’ve created a border  — a signal that the viewer is leaving one kind of space and moving into another.  Carve and gild that border and you’re declaring that what is inside is special, very special.

And sometimes the frame itself can grow so exuberant, so loudly and proudly does it proclaim the specialness of what it contains that viewers have to work really hard to tear their attention away from the  border…to the special object it is framing.

Altar in a baroque church in Lecce -- is there any other kind?

Altar in a baroque church in Lecce — is there any other kind?


causeway into Angkor Thom

Whether or not the ancient Khmer had a word for it,  they certainly knew how to express the power of transitions and threshholds in stone.  Sure wish “liminality” had some of that oomph.

gate into Angkor Thom

nature adds its own drama  in Ta Phrom

doorway in Preah Ko temple

Seeing across borders   Leave a comment

in Mrauk U – July 2012

Just before leaving for a trip to Asia,  I reviewed a show at the Peabody Essex Museum that was all about how Europeans’ visions of China gave certain Chinese works a boost in the art market — works with  goldfish, for example, were popular sellers — and sometimes even spawned new genres, like watercolors chronicling the various stages of tea and silk production.   Now every time I raise my camera and frame a photograph I think of just what it is that I am choosing and how my notions of Myanmar (mostly based on my trip here in 1977 when it was still known as Burma) shape the country that I (want to) see.

Posted July 20, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art

crossing into hell   1 comment

The Six Realms: Hell, scroll 22 of Five Hundred Arhats by Kano Kazunobo (1816-63)

Masters of Mercy” — what a well constructed show of paintings featuring rakans, the Buddha’s disciples (or luohan as the Chinese refer to them) who so often stare out with fierce expressions, as though to remind us that this whole enlightenment business is hard work.

The show starts with a couple of paintings by Kano Kazunobo from the 19th century then steps back in time to familiarize us with the way rakan were historically depicted, all this to prime us to return to Kazunobo, this time to appreciate a suite of large scroll paintings.  They are selections for a massive series Kazunobo painted between 1854 and his death in 1863.  Each one tells a story, from daily routines like shaving and bathing in the monastery to rakans exhibiting supernatural powers or visiting hell realms.

Not sure what it says about me (probably that I spent too much time looking at Bosch’s hells — thank you, Dixon, for that) but I could not stop looking at Scroll 22.  I love the way Kazunobo depicts this netherworld — it is airless and miasmic and it sucks the bodies into itself.  But there is a way out through the powerful rays that one rakan is shining down.  Most of all, I love that the rakan aren’t looking down from another realm.  They may be standing on a cloud insulated from those beautiful but dangerous flames, but they have crossed into this underworld, daring to be in it while making sure they are not of it.

Borderland or dead end?   Leave a comment

Do you think of tombs as marking a threshold, a commemoration of that ultimate borderland between life on earth and an after life?  Or do you see tombs as signalling the end of a person’s existence?  In reviewing a show currently at the China Institute Gallery, I discovered that the Jin dynasty in 13th-century China may have been paying lip service to the first theory while really subscribing to the second…making this show of funerary art all the more appealing to an aficionado of old cemeteries

Remember Tintin going to Tibet? Well, he was not alone…   Leave a comment

Years and years ago, I read Tintin in Tibet, but I had no idea that, since the 1940s, all sorts of comic book characters have been visiting this far-off land of snow-capped mountains.   This is what a show at the Rubin Museum of Art explores, and after I had read comic after comic after comic, I found myself thinking of  other incarnations Tibet has had.

The Tibetan community in exile still speaks very much in terms of someday returning to its homeland, and for these Tibetans ‘Tibet’ is a concrete geographic place and culture.  But to us outsiders, ‘Tibet’ is getting more and more narrowly defined.  Whenever I see Tibetan monks creating sand mandalas in a museum, Tibetan embroidery and brassware for sale,  or a stupa rising on the Costa del Sol, I wonder whether ‘Tibet’ may not be reincarnating as an increasingly rarefied collection of objects, rituals, and religious practices that floats around the world.

When we think of Tibet, don’t most of us flash to robed lamas and deep-throated chants…tangkhas and bronzes and the Dalai Lama advocating non-violence…windswept mountainscapes where smiling children scamper and old women look out from wrinkled faces…?  It is a ‘Tibet’ not far removed from the 2-D Tibet of comics, when you get right down to it.  Which makes this following bit all the more relevant (and poignant):  in writing  my review, I learned that some young Tibetans living in exile are launching a Comics Workshop.  Why? To make sure that ‘real Tibetans’ start inhabiting comic book Tibet, just the way they long to inhabit the land of their forefathers.

Posted January 4, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art, museum shows, New York