A Balancing Act

Art history/ Historiography, Craftspersons/ Artisanal, Museums/ Galleries / Collections / Exhibitions

A Balancing Act: Himalayan Art and Craft at The Rubin Museum of Art

McComb, Jessie F.

A debate has always existed about the role of museums in the representation of traditional art and craft. There are those that think museums detach craft from its true functionality, placing it behind glass casings and removing it from the grasp of the viewer. And there are those that view museums as preservers of crafts that are dying off in our modernizing world. Of course there are museums that have dealt sensitively with these issues in innovative manners like the Fuller Craft Museum in Massachusetts. However, in spite of these initiatives, most museums either artificially elevate craft into the same category as fine art or depreciate it as a mere cultural artifact. So when I recently visited the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, I was pleasantly surprised to find a careful balance that presented craft as functional, beautiful and valuable.

The Rubin Museum of Art (RMA), located in a historic building in Chelsea NYC, is less than a year old yet boasts one of the largest and most in depth collection of Himalayan art in the world. With a focus purely on Himalayan art from the mountain regions of India, Pakistan, southwest China, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, the RMA displays paintings, sculptures and textiles from the 12th through the 19th centuries. As a new frontier of art exploration, the RMA believes that Himalayan art can offer American viewers the opportunity to investigate the sacred, political and personal histories contained withi...

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