Fleming pieces illustrate Buddhist leaders

By Sally Pollak, The Burlington Free Press, September 28, 2008

Burlington, Vermont (USA) -- Head to higher ground -- the hilltop art museum at the University of Vermont -- for an awe-inspiring exhibit of Tibetan art, "Buddha in Paradise."

A gallery at UVM's Fleming Museum is displaying a collection of paintings and sculptures, from the 13th to the 20th century, on loan from the Rubin Museum of Art.

The paintings, known as tangka paintings, are scroll paintings made on cloth. They are beautiful works of art, rich in color and details, that are renderings of places known in Buddhist thought as Pure Lands.

This is a state that is a kind of way-station between earthly existence and final enlightenment, Fleming curator Aimee Marcereau DeGalan said. "These objects are meant as devotional guides to lead one through this path to reach this pure land," she said.

They are stunning in their beauty and intricacy, pieces that illustrate stories of Buddhist leaders and their beliefs. The paintings, which often center around images of Buddha, also show clouds and flowers, animals and yogis -- a gentle psychedelia.

Also on exhibit are centuries-old gilt sculptures of Buddha, two of which greet visitors at the gallery entrance. These strong and serene pieces present a compelling contrast to the scroll paintings.

DeGalan, who came to UVM from the Cleveland Museum of Art; began her work as the Fleming curator June 15. In her short time here, DeGalan said she has become aware of a deep interest in Buddhism in the state.

"There's a pretty large Buddhist community in Vermont that we're hoping will gravitate toward the exhibition," she said.

In a program related to the exhibit, a group of Tibetan monks will visit the Fleming in mid-October to construct mandala sand paintings in the Fleming's marble court.

The public is invited to watch the monks work, and to see the ceremonial dismantling of the piece at the end of the week.