Day: August 4th, 2006

Tantric Siddhas and Dirty Birds

Friday, August 4th, 2006 | All Things, Arts, Eats

The Rubin Museum of Art opened in October 2004, in the Chelsea building on 17th Street formerly occupied by Barneys. I remember window-shopping through the same space when it was a department store — the Rubins, Shelley and Donald, bought the building in a bankruptcy sale for $22M to showcase their vast personal collection of predominantly Tibetan-region art, dating from the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries.

The most striking feature of the exhibition space is the six-story spiral staircase — original to the department store’s design. Architect Richard Blinder and graphic designer Milton Glaser (creator of the “I *heart* NY” logo and the DC Comics circular logo that was in use until 2005) are credited with the museum’s transformation.

RMA spiral staircase

The collection focuses on paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs. This night, we were treated to a gallery tour and storytelling session focused on how gender lines are blurred in the imagery and folklore of Himalayan art traditions, during which I was struck by the museum’s guide/historian’s obvious passion for her work. The fifth and sixth floor galleries were taken up by a special exhibit entitled “Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas,” which focused on spritually accomplished men and women (siddhas ) who possessed magical spiritual and physical powers. Like stopping the sun to avoid paying a tavern bill — fun stuff!

One gallery is devoted to a fantastic mural being painted through the end of the year by Himalayan-trained Tibetan artist Pema Rinzin, on a residency sponsored by the RMA and The School of Visual Arts, where he will be teaching a Tibetan painting course in the Fall. When I arrived, he was talking animatedly with a couple about his previous eight-year project in Japan. His painting technique involves hand grinding mineral stone into a water and rabbit-skin extract solution and painstakingly applying it to the the wall with a tiny brush.


On Friday nights through mid-September, the museum plays host to CabaretCinema, an innovative themed film program. Their first floor K2 Lounge is a slick space serving drinks and light bites, and set up for live performances and DJ turns.

Afterwards, we stopped in for dinner at Dirty Bird to Go, the newish West Village organic fried chicken spot. Good — if slightly pricey — fried chicken: ours arrived hot, crisp and not too thickly battered. The shallot cornbread had a different texture than what I was used to — flatter, denser — but was nonetheless tasty.

We pulled up stools at the counter overlooking 14th Street, from which we could watch the fascinating array of Friday nightlife scenes unfold.

Dirty Bird to Go

Chicken dinner

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