In this most cacophonous of American cities, transcendence is best accepted wherever found -- perhaps even in ladies' lingerie.
So one fine autumn day a visitor walks onto the sixth floor of the former Barneys department store. Not so very long ago this was a haute consumer shrine to overpriced negligees and silk bras; now a visitor finds "Methods of Transcendence," one floor in a splendid bathed-in-natural-light collection of Himalayan mandalas and thangkas and Buddhist statuary.
A "Mistress of Demons," left, and Kanha (an Indian adept). The Rubin collec- tion includes more than 1,000 sculptures, tapestries, paintings and photos.
(Photos Copyright Rubin Museum Of Art)
Buddha himself might chuckle at this spin of the cosmic wheel.
A marvelous institution has risen in the heart of the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan. Occupying six floors and wrapped around a grand spiral staircase and a 25-foot-wide skylight, the sleek and handsome Rubin Museum of Art offers perhaps America's greatest collection of Himalayan art, more than 1,000 sculptures, tapestries, paintings and photographs spread over 70,000 square feet.
Inaugurated with drums and the unfurling of 100 locally designed Tibetan prayer flags, and a march down Seventh Avenue by 70 neighborhood dogs of Himalayan origin -- yipping Lhasa apsos and solemn Afghan hounds with owners in tow -- the museum opened its doors this month. Six years and $60 million in the making, it is the creation of Donald and Shelly Rubin, and more than 5,500 people visited in the first two days.
"The story of this museum is our conversation with our own mortality," says Donald Rubin. "Shelly and I talked about it, and we did not want to come to the end of our lives without leaving a legacy."
Theirs was an accidental passion. The Rubins were strolling Madison Avenue one day in 1974 when they wandered into one of that boulevard's ubiquitous art galleries and spotted a Tibetan painting of a female Buddhist deity. Donald was at the time a 40-year-old health-care executive, a man in a hurry to build his business and make his pile. He saw that thangka, with its radiant periwinkle blues and golden hues, and he was pulled to a stop.
"It spoke to me in a way that I could not imagine," recalls Donald Rubin, a silver-haired 69-year-old whose voice carries the rough-hewn cadences of New York. "We hung that painting in our bedroom and it radiated outward. I knew nothing about this art except that it felt like falling in love."
For the next 30 years, Donald and Shelly built their managed-health-care network, Multiplan, and never stopped collecting Himalayan art, from Afghanistan to Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir India, Bhutan and Mongolia. Experts speak of the breadth and quality of their collection, and to an amateur's eye the Rubins' taste is exquisite. The couple take pains to describe themselves as enthusiasts rather than experts.