Eternal Presence: Buddhist Art

by Elisabeth Kley, New York Press, July 8, 2005

July 08-September 04, Tues & Sat 11-7, Thurs & Fri 11-9, Wed & Sun 11-5

New York, USA -- For a religion founded on extinguishing desire, Buddhism is remarkably fixated on the enlightened one?s physically perfect body.

According to doctrine, there are 32 distinguishing marks on the body of a child that will grow up to be a Buddha, including a golden complexion and eyelashes like a cow?s. Buddha himself reportedly left footprints in stone in order to silence doubters, and for believers, his foot and handprints (real or manufactured) are crucial religious relics.

The opening work in Eternal Presence: Handprints and Footprints in Buddhist Art, a remarkable exhibition at The Rubin Museum of Art, is a flat stone sculpture with hollowed places for Buddha?s feet?sites for imagining his enormous missing presence. Later, in the Himalayas, foot and handprints were often included in portraits of lamas, the priests and teachers considered to be reincarnated Buddhas. Usually life-sized, they?re placed on either side of the smaller portrait figures, as if the hands and feet of an invading ghost have broken into the representation from behind. The actual prints of a lama, preserved on the back of his portrait, can be seen in one two-sided frame, consecrating the piece with the trace of his once living body.

Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W. 17th St. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.), 212-415-5500; Tues & Sat 11-7, Thurs & Fri 11-9, Wed & Sun 11-5.