An Urban Oasis — The Rubin Museum of Art

By Taylor Smith

Photos courtesy of The Rubin Museum of Art

Looking for a cultural day trip? Fall is a great time to visit The Rubin Museum of Art, located at 150 West 17th Street in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. With an emphasis on cross-cultural connections, the Rubin showcases the art, ideas, and culture of the Himalayas, India, and neighboring regions. Special exhibitions celebrate art forms that range from ancient to contemporary. 

Visitors to the Museum will be struck by the vertical nature of the gallery space. A large winding staircase at the center of the building takes patrons to all five floors. The 75,000 square feet of space includes permanent collections, special exhibitions, a state-of-the-art theater, a dedicated 5,000-square-foot Education Center, an eclectic bookshop, and the impressive Cafe Serai.

People are drawn to the Rubin for all different reasons. As monks stroll the hallways, and faint chanting drifts through the air, the atmosphere is quiet, reflective, and serves as a definite contrast to the pace and noise of the city outside.

Darkly lit, The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room will be on view through September 16, 2019. The installation accurately replicates a traditional shrine room seen in many Tibetan households. This space is typically used for offerings, devotional practices, contemplation, prayer, and quiet reflection. Curated by Elena Pakhoutova, the room is scented by incense and covered with decorative objects from floor to ceiling. Bells ring every so often, and stools are offered to visitors so that they can sit and observe for as long as they like. A truly unique and meditative experience, this exhibit is highly recommended viewing for all visitors.

Another interactive installation, on view through February 4, 2019, is “A Lost Future:  Matti Braun.” Here, the central gallery has been transformed into a vast black pond. The pond (which spans the width of one large room) is filled with water six inches deep and dotted with white mulberry and Norway maple tree discs. By walking across the pond and using the tree discs as stepping stones, visitors are able to carve their own path as they navigate the black abyss however they choose. The effect is a disembodied sensation in which the participants are meant to feel like aliens on a foreign planet.

Before the exit of the museum stands a psychologically poignant exhibit entitled, “A Monument for the Anxious and Hopeful,” on view through January 7, 2019. Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, artist Candy Chang and writer James A. Reeves ask that Rubin visitors share their personal anxieties or hopes by writing them out on a card and then hanging it on the wall, dotted with thousands of pegs on which to hang the pieces of paper. Reading others’ anxieties and hopes is a truly reflective and unifying experience. When standing close enough to the pieces of paper to read each one individually, to admire the different forms of handwriting, and to sense the manner of urgency and weight in which people have unloaded their hidden fears or deepest desires, visitors will most likely be struck by the glaring honesty of the installation. To understand the piece as one giant prayer flag, visitors should step far away from the wall and observe how all of the black ink and white individual pieces of paper seem to form one giant prayer to whomever is listening. Some pieces of paper read like a cry for help, while others are joyful, somber, stoic, or ironic.

Located within the museum, Cafe Serai is the perfect complement to the artwork and experiential nature of the exhibits at The Rubin. Cafe Serai specializes in the aromas and flavors of the Himalayan region and does not require museum admission to enjoy. Menu items include everything from Chicken Tikka Masala to Coconut Shrimp Korma, Tandoori Octopus, Lamb Masala Meatballs, and Potato Samosas. End the day with something sweet like Matcha Ice Cream or Vegan Coconut Rice Pudding. Cocktails, coffee, custom tea blends, and San Pellegrino are also fully available.

The museum is closed on Tuesdays. Museum hours are Monday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For a fully informative experience, download the free Rubin Museum audio guide app and listen to experts discuss the significance of selected works and current exhibitions. The app is available for free in both the iTunes and GooglePlay stores.

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