Mongolian Art: A Living Landscape
July 31 - October 17, 2004
Mongolian Art: A Living Landscape uses objects, words, and images to tell the long and storied history of the Mongolian steppeland from ancient times to the present. Mongolian art is presented here not as sealed, encased objects but rather as presences to be used, trusted, and respected, as objects inseparable from life itself.
The exhibition is organized thematically into five main areas: Past and Future Landscapes (stone tools and monuments); Five Snouts on the Steppe (the sheep, goat, yak, camel, and horse as the staples of daily life); The Holy (tsam ceremonial masks); Socio-cultural Heritage (Buddhism); and The Written Word (scripts). Together, they compose a narrative of Mongolian life and celebrate the vitality and tenacity of the Mongolian people.
The art of Mongolia is informed greatly by Buddhist tradition as well as by the shamanist and animist beliefs that created the basis for early Mongolian culture. The art objects in Mongolian Art attest to the rich spiritual life sculpted out of an uncompromising land. The thousand-year history of literacy on the steppe can be read in examples of the written word, while objects, both sacred and everyday, are placed within the larger context of the land (and landscape) that produced them. Large-scale photographs of Mongolia show a country of vast and demanding beauty and provide a visual backdrop to the exhibition as a whole.
Mongolian Art includes about 100 artifacts from the Paleolithic to the Modern Age, including, most notably: an eight-foot high nineteenth-century folk painting depicting the complete, whimsical pantheon of Mongolian deities; a 3,000-year-old bronze sculpture of an argali atop a bronze knife; and a magnificent set of eighteenth-century tsam masks. The exhibition also features aesthetic works as diverse-in history and purpose-as: Paleolithic and Neolithic tools; Bronze Age knives and plaques; a medieval bronze milk pitcher; gilt-bronze statues of animal deities and shamans; seven tsam masks portraying the gods Edugen, Begtse, Siddhartha, Ganesha, as well as a boar, tiger, and child's face; Buddhist gilt-bronze sculptures from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; paintings and maps; and thangkas, sutras, and non-religious books in various forms of Mongolian script.