Monday, February 17, 2014

When is the Buddha not the Buddha?

Leading contemporary artist Gonkar Gyatso (born Lhasa, 1961) poses this question in Dissected Buddha, 2013, currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Assistant Curator with the Department of Asian Art, Kurt Behrendt's bold decision to include Gyatso's sticker collage work in "Tibet and India: Buddhist Traditions and Transformations" is an enlightened one, and invites a fresh contemporary perspective on the interpretation of the Buddha within the context of the Met's extraordinary collection of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist art.  

The exhibition runs until June 8, 2014 in Gallery 251, for further information about the artist, please contact me here.  A free lecture (with Museum admission) will be held on March 7, 4- 5pm, see here for further details.  The work is a Promised Gift to the Met by Margaret Scott and David Teplitzky.

Gonkar Gyatso, Dissected Buddha, 2013, 
Collage, stickers, pencil and coloured pencil and acrylic on paper.  
Image courtesy of the Artist.

Dissected Buddha presents a compelling contrast to the serene poses of the foundational Buddhist sculpture from the 10th and 11th Century. The viewer is immediately drawn to the central image of the work - a rich surface made up of cartoon stickers, interspersed with magazine and newspaper cuttings that gives form to the Buddha at the moment of enlightenment. However, Gyatso firmly positions his Buddha in the present, successfully juxtaposing the solid mass with a playful hand-drawn background in continuous motion, firmly rooted in the now. Planes, trains and automobiles shoot out from the halo - destination unknown - but carefully offset by a bombardment of urban signage and familiar political iconography all jostling for a position alongside the artist's personal text references to popular culture and politics that preoccupy the mass media and society today.