Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Bit of Bhutan in San Francisco

It's one of those places that people who've been say IS truly magical -- the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. It's on my wish list but, for now, an exhibit here in San Francisco will have to do. The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan, opens Saturday, Feb. 21 at the Asian Art Museum. I got a sneak preview at a press event of the spectacular objects that cover three galleries on the museum's first floor. Last year was the first time Bhutanese art has ever been exhibited outside of Bhutan: the show went first to Honolulu and then to New York. "It's a wonderful platform for Bhutan," said a beaming Penden Wangchuck (shown above), Bhutan's minister of cultural affairs, on Wednesday. "It's an opportunity to showcase a small country wedged in the Himalayas between two giants, India and China." He said all the objects are sacred to the Bhutanese, who practice a type of Buddhism (Vajrayana) that arrived in the country -- one of the few in Asia never colonized -- in the 8th century. The exhibit pieces are used in daily religious practices, such as a ritual to wash away bad karma. Sculptures of dieties are covered with gold, turquoise and coral. Just outside the galleries, Bhutanese monks chant and perform rituals at an altar several times a day during the duration of the exhibit. The museum store, as usual, is selling some terrific stuff, including new items from Bhutan. I came away vowing to return soon to see the art at a calmer pace -- and to get some of that bad karma cleansed.

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