Join our Mailing List

"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Rubin Museum Finds a New Focus

September 2, 2008

The new chief curator of the Rubin Museum of Art, Martin Brauen,
arrived at the museum this past June, at an important moment for the
institution.
By KATE TAYLOR, Staff Reporter
The New York Sun
August 29, 2008

The museum, founded by Donald and Shelley Rubin and dedicated to art
of the Himalayas, has been open for four years. It has been praised
for its exhibitions, focusing on such subjects as Sikh art and images
of siddhas, or holy madmen, in India and Tibet.

But the museum has taken a while to find a management structure that
works. It started out with a relatively conventional system, with a
single director. Later, it switched to a system of three directors.
Now, Mr. Brauen is responsible for everything related to programming,
while Mr. Rubin, the retired founder of a managed-care company,
serves as the museum's CEO.

Mr. Brauen, one of the world's leading experts in Tibetan art, spent
the first 35 years of his career at the Ethnographic Museum of the
University of Zurich. Now he has to focus on the sustainability of
the Rubin Museum's exhibition program and its audience. He said he
wants to expand the programming with more comparative exhibitions and
more loan exhibitions.

"It cannot be the future of the museum to concentrate only on Tibetan
and Himalayan art, or only on our own collection," he said in a
recent interview. The museum's collection includes some 3,000
objects, of which 1,500 or 2,000 are truly exceptional, Mr. Brauen said.

Among the first exhibitions Mr. Brauen will curate at the Rubin is a
show of mandalas -- the Buddhist paintings that serve as aids to
meditation. He said he would also like to do shows of contemporary
Tibetan and Indian art, as well as comparative shows about Buddhist
and European medieval cosmologies, and views of death.

In 1992, Mr. Brauen organized the first exhibition on mandalas in the
world in Zurich. Many Westerners, he explained, don't understand that
most mandalas are two-dimensional representations of a
three-dimensional concept: a palace full of deities, on which the
practitioner is supposed to meditate. There are a small number of
three-dimensional mandalas in the world: highly ornamented
sculptures, frequently made of wood and brightly painted.

For the mandala exhibition at the Rubin, which will open in August of
2009, Mr. Brauen is hoping to borrow a three-dimensional mandala
either from the collection of the Russian Ethnography Museum in Saint
Petersburg or from a monastery in North India.

Going forward, the museum's challenge will be to find a way to
sustain itself after the Rubins are no longer around. In addition to
donating the majority of the collection, the Rubins spent $22 million
to buy the building, a former Barneys, and created an endowment,
which is now at $80 million. Last year, of the $17 million the museum
raised, the Rubins donated $7.5 million, or 40%.

In an interview, Mr. Rubin, 73, acknowledged that his and his wife's
support would not "go on forever." He said that the succession plan
would be up to the museum's board. "I have a [chief operating
officer] who has 25 years of experience, a great fiscal director, and
a great staff," Mr. Rubin said. "We hope that the public will want
this museum to continue a long time."

He also said it was natural that it would take a while to find the
right management structure.

"You have a different culture for just about every chief executive
and chairman that exists," he said. "Jack Welch's style is different
from mine and from the 100 other top CEOs in the country," he
continued. "When my time [here] is up, there will be somebody with a
different personality, a different organizational structure, and a
different corporate culture."

Mr. Brauen's commitment to Tibetan culture extends beyond his
professional life. In the early 1960s, the Swiss government accepted
1,000 Tibetan refugees, who were fleeing persecution in China. While
he was still in high school in Zurich, Mr. Brauen collected money for
the refugees and made several Tibetan friends. He also became
fascinated by Tibetan art. In 1969, when he was a student at the
University of Bern -- studying medicine, not art history -- he
organized one of the first major European exhibitions of Tibetan art,
at the public exhibition hall in Zurich.

After the exhibition, he decided to quit his medical studies and go
to New Delhi for a year to study Buddhism. He fell in love with a
Tibetan woman, who had fled Tibet with her family in the winter of
1959-60. (Her sister died on the journey.) After consulting with a
lama, or priest, Mr. Brauen's future mother-in-law decided that the
couple could marry, but only after waiting for two years.

Mr. Brauen and his wife went back to Zurich, where he returned to
school to study cultural anthropology. Because it was still uncommon
to see Asian people in Switzerland, his wife often found Swiss people
she met to be cool and reserved -- that is, until they learned where
she was from.

"They would say, 'Oh, you're from Tibet, how wonderful -- we thought
you were from the Philippines or Thailand,'" Mr. Brauen said. "I
mean, they didn't say it so clearly, but it was obvious that when
they heard that she was from Tibet they were completely different."

Mr. Brauen's curiosity about why Europeans reacted in such a positive
way to Tibetans led to an exhibition in 2000 called "Dreamworld
Tibet," about Western myths and fantasies of Tibet.

Politically, Mr. Brauen has to tread a fine line between his
professional and his personal views. The museum does not take a
position on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and it has at different
times attracted criticism from both the Chinese government and
Students for a Free Tibet.

Personally, however, Mr. Brauen and his family are critical of China.
His daughter, the actress Yangzom Brauen, was arrested in Moscow in
2001, when she and a group of other people tried to unfurl a banner
opposing Beijing's Olympic bid. Mr. Brauen said he, too, had been
skeptical about the benefits of having the Olympics in China, where,
he said, "eight to ten thousand people are sentenced to death each year."

Mr. Brauen said that the Rubin's collection was a strong draw when he
was considering the job. The museum is still acquiring pieces, though
slowly. Prices for Tibetan art have risen significantly in recent
years -- partly because of interest from wealthy Chinese collectors,
Mr. Brauen said. "Before, you could get exceptional pieces for
$100,000," he said. "Now, a good piece can be more than a million dollars."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank