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Rubin Museum of Art, September 16, 2016 - January 9, 2017

Images of monuments and sacred sites throughout the world such as the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Taj Mahal act as powerful representations of place, and "Monumental Lhasa" is the first exhibition to explore this kind of visual representation in Tibet, featuring drawings, paintings, and photographs of landmarks created primarily by Tibetans and Westerners since the 18th century.

Bringing together over 50 works of art and photographs from the Rubin Museum collection as well as public and private collections across Europe and North America, the exhibition revives one of the original functions of these images—to transmit the holy city of Lhasa and other sacred sites to a remote audience. Spanning art that ranges from pilgrimage maps to photo albums, the exhibition explores how images contribute to the iconic character, familiarity, and power of important landmarks. "Architecture is deeply connected to our impression and experience of places. While we may never visit these sites ourselves, we often become acquainted with them through encounters with images on postcards, souvenirs, and various forms of media," exhibition curator Natasha Kimmet said. "In Lhasa, Buddhist pilgrims and other visitors created images focused on the capital's striking landmark buildings to recreate and convey their experience of this important religious and political center of Asia."

The exhibition introduces visitors to the monumental palace-fortresses, sacred temples, and powerful monastic institutions that anchored the religious and political life of Lhasa and environs, including the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and Samye monastery. Rare visual representations of Lhasa demonstrate the appeal of these monuments, as well as how cross-cultural encounters shaped the production of images. While the Tibetan images are shaped by Buddhist religious and historical narratives, Western and other foreign visitors were focused on imperial exploration, travel, and scientific discovery, highlighting how architecture images have often been manipulated to convey the messages of patrons and artists. Tibetans and foreigners frequently adjusted their representations of Lhasa's buildings and geography to convey specific motives or perspectives—a practice that continues today through the use of photo editing tools and filters like Photoshop and photo apps for social media.

By displaying these images, the Rubin invites visitors to vicariously traverse the key sites of central Tibet and to look closely at how architecture, geography, and the identity of Tibet have been represented and shared in ways that intersect with how we travel and experience places now.

Four articles on this exhibition will be featured in the October 2016 issue of Orientations magazine:

Natasha Kimmet — Anchored in Architecture: ‘Monumental Lhasa’ at the Rubin Museum of Art
Brid Arthur — Visions of Lhasa: Exploring Tibetan Monument Paintings
Diana Lange — ‘A Unique View from Within’: The Representation of Tibetan Architecture in the British Library’s Wise Collection
Knud Larsen — Some Remarks on Central Tibetan Architecture

About Natasha Kimmet
Natasha is Curatorial Fellow at the Rubin Museum of Art. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the University of Vienna and a member of the Graduate School "Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayas." Her research explores intersections between the material and social dimensions of art, architecture, and ritual/use in Tibet and the Himalayas. She earned a M.A. in the History of Art and Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and has recently published articles in Orientations and the anthology Nako: Research and Conservation in the Western Himalayas (Böhlau, 2016).

Public programs and interpretive content will complement the exhibition, including an audio tour that features excerpts from Western travelogues and Tibetan pilgrimage guides. Additional programs will include a talk by Clare Harris, Professor of Visual Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Curator for Asian Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, tied to the launch of her latest book Photography and Tibet (Reaktion Books, 2016).

This exhibition is made possible, in part, by the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation, Tulku Tsultrim Pelgyi, and contributors to the 2016 Exhibitions Fund.

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