Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar | Asian Art Museum

Popped into the Asian Art Museum, just down the street from the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. This small but surprisingly well appointed private museum holds the personal collection of A. Altangerel, who since the early 1990s has amassed a staggering array of Mongolian Buddhist art. As Altangerel says in the beautifully produced catalog of his collection, “Although I was not academically trained in the discipline of material cultural studies, I have devoted my entire life, including most of my waking hours, to the work of studying and protecting the precious historical and cultural heritages of the native folk of Mongolia, in order to preserve those works for posterity.” His main goal, he adds, “is to protect important works of art and to keep these precious relics of our long history from leaving the country forever.”

His collection includes two works directly attributed to Zanabazar: a 22 7/8 inch-high bronze statue of a standing Janraisig (Avalokitesvara) and a 13 5/8 inch high Ratnasambhava, one of the Transcendental Buddhas. The collection is apparently shown in the museum on a rotating basis and these two works are not currently on display. Also not on display is a silk appliqué, 25 ¼ x 21 3/8, showing a three-eyed Narkhajid holding a skull cup filled with blood. Zanabazar’s wife was believed by some to be an emanation of Narkhajid.

There is on display a 12 x 9.5 inch portrait of Zanabazar dating from the 18th-19th centuries (artist unknown). Taranatha, the incarnation of Javzandamba prior to Zanabazar, is shown with white hair and a beard in the lower left hand corner of the portrait. There is also a 5 7/8 inch high paper-maché statue of Zanabazar in his familiar pose, holding a vajra and bell. There are also many “School of Zanabazar” works, many of superb quality, in the collection. Here are some of the the works on display:

An illustrated Sutra
After a couple hours at the museum I nipped over to nearby Narya’s Café. Even though it was three o’clock in the afternoon and a weekday every table was occupied and I had to take a stool out in the front room. Narya’s now has bragging rights to the best coffee in town. I’ve heard it said (by people who have never been there) that only ex-pats and tourists frequent Narya's but I when I was there I was the only non-Mongolian in the place. Narya’s also has Wi-Fi, although you are supposed to pay 1000 togrogs (85 cents) to use it.