William College Museum of Art opens exhibition on Tibetan art from the Jack Shear Collection

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William College Museum of Art opens exhibition on Tibetan art from the Jack Shear Collection
Abstract Sound #4, 2010. Ground mineral pigment on wooden panel. Pema Rinzin, born 1966 in Tibet; studied in Dharamsala, India; lived and worked in Nagano, Japan and Wurzburg, Germany; lives and works in New York, New York. Courtesy of the artist.

WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS.- The Williams College Museum of Art opened the presentation of Across Shared Waters: Contemporary Artists in Dialogue with Tibetan Art from the Jack Shear Collection, now on view since yesterday, and which will continue through July 16, 2023.

Much as the headwaters of Asia’s major rivers form in the Tibetan plateau and flow into the world’s seas, interest in Tibetan art and culture has circulated globally, inspiring artists within Tibetan regions and throughout the world. Across Shared Waters: Contemporary Artists in Dialogue with Tibetan Art from the Jack Shear Collection presents works by 11 contemporary artists of Himalayan heritage alongside traditional Tibetan Buddhist rolled paintings, or thangka, from the Jack Shear Collection, a juxtaposition that highlights the richness and diversity of Tibetan artistic expression and fosters greater understanding and appreciation of Himalayan histories and identities.

Traditional works in Across Shared Waters are part of a generous initiative by collector Jack Shear to foster collaboration among the art museums of Williams, Skidmore, and Vassar Colleges. The paintings and other objects comprising the gift will be used for education, research, and informed display. Across Shared Waters is the second in a series of exhibitions of the Jack Shear Collection of Tibetan Art. The first, Mastery and Merit: Tibetan Art from the Jack Shear Collection, was on view at the Loeb Center at Vassar College in the spring and summer of 2022. The third exhibition will be on view at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College beginning in August 2023.

The WCMA exhibition is organized by guest curator Ariana Maki, the Associate Director of the University of Virginia Tibet Center and Bhutan Initiative, with Elizabeth Gallerani, Curator of Mellon Academic Programs, and Nicholas Liou, Mellon Curatorial Fellow and MA ’24, along with research support from Curatorial Intern Priya Rajbhandary ’25. Tibetan translation is provided by Rongwo Lugyal.

Pamela Franks, Class of 1956 Director of WCMA, said, “The Williams College Museum of Art is thrilled to participate in this visionary, collaborative approach that engages three leading liberal arts colleges and expands our collective research and teaching capacities to appropriately present this important work. This initiative highlights WCMA’s ongoing commitment of both sharing the art itself and collaborating across institutions to strengthen the pedagogical approaches and research resources within our teaching museum. I am so grateful to Jack Shear, our colleagues at the Skidmore and Vassar museums, and for the engaged scholarship of guest curator Ariana Maki throughout the development of these three exhibitions. We look forward to collaboration long into the future.”

“The Shear Collection provides remarkable examples of traditional Tibetan Buddhist art and its wide range of uses and meanings,” Maki said. “As the academic approach to Buddhism is generally text-focused, the paintings and 3-D objects from Shear offer faculty an incredible set of resources to further enrich their courses and help broaden student understanding of Buddhist practices. Displaying these works allows everyone direct access to better study and appreciate how historical artists masterfully gave form to highly sophisticated philosophical principles.

“It’s exciting to experience the traditional works alongside contemporary paintings and photography. The juxtaposition reflects the innovations and incredible creativity of Himalayan makers, whose works invite us into their lived experiences and challenge us to consider issues that both impact them as individuals and all of us as members of a global society,” Maki said.

Created between the 18th and 20th centuries, the thangka feature elaborate depictions of Buddhist narratives, deities, and practices. Talented, highly trained artists produced engaging scenes detailing the lives of the Buddha, chronicled incarnation lineages, and transmitted teaching stories. Some works would be used by initiates to support advanced meditation techniques while others depict deities who aid Buddhist practitioners with everyday concerns, granting blessings of wealth, long life, protection, or healing.

The traditional thangka are displayed in conversation with contemporary works by featured artists based around the world, including Marie-Dolma Chophel, Dedron, Nyema Droma, Gonkar Gyatso, Tenzin Norbu Lama, Kesang Lamdark, Tashi Norbu, Karma Phuntsok, Pema Rinzin, Rabkar Wangchuk, and Palden Weinreb. While some draw inspiration from Tibetan cultural markers, including repurposing or reimagining Buddhist imagery, others source inspiration completely outside those frames. Exploring themes of identity, consumerism, place, and cultural expectations, the artists employ a diverse range of media, from ground mineral pigments to acrylic paint, digital photography, mixed media works, and resin cast sculptures.

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