Tibet: Klöster öffnen ihre Schatzkammern

Exhibition, Dahlem, February 21 - May 28, 2007

Tibetan yama in DahlemAs in Studiolum (this is the place of advertisement) we have just recently published the web presentation of the Tibetan collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the legacy of Sándor Kőrösi Csoma, the founder of Tibetan Studies, I decided to visit the Tibetan exhibition first. And there I stayed on until closing time. Dahlem only can be digested in small pieces.

This exhibition was organized at the end of the last year by the Kulturstiftung Ruhr Essen in Essen’s Villa Hügel, from where it has been transferred to Dahlem. The exhibition is of historical importance, as this is the first time that cult objects of active Tibetan monasteries are exposed outside of Tibet. Jeong-Hee Lee-Kalisch, head of the organizing committee relates in the introduction of the catalog that they have been engaged in field research in Tibet since 2003, in the course of which they managed to convince the largest Tibetan monasteries to allow their sculptures, paintings and liturgical objects being exposed, all in all 150 objects from the 5th to the 20th century. It is interesting to read that although the Tibetan monks – in spite of their best efforts – could not grasp the Western concept of “exhibition object”, nevertheless they understood that it was important to the Western scholars, and thus they readily collaborated in the interest of this unconceivable purpose.

The difference of the two visions is well attested among other things by the fact that the cult statues that are dressed in precious clothes in the Tibetan monasteries are exposed without these vestments in Dahlem, as if an allowance to the European concept of statue that considers them a superfluous addition. Just like the Gothic statues of Pietà wear rich Baroque robes on the altars of Marian pilgrimage shrines, but if they happen to get into museums, they are exposed without their vestments. Fortunately, the catalog of the exhibition also includes the “vested” images of these statues, as the Tibetan believers encounter them.

The objects are grouped by some basic themes of Tibetan monastery culture, and this is how they are explained on the summary boards in each room: portrait statues of monastery founders, the stupa, the mandala, musical instruments, healing and so on. By this they intend to offer some handle to the European visitor in his probably very first encounter with this unknown and complex culture. However, the result is that one is urged to behold the object as illustrations of this conception, and not as autonomous objects of art.

A flash presentation of the exhibition – still from its Essen months – that is worth an abbreviated catalog can be seen here. It puts less emphasis on the thematic conception, and presents the objects on independent pages and with separate explanations. And this is already enough to achieve what the exhibition was unable to do: the presentation of these objects as objects of art.