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First exhibition to bring together material from Tibetan monastery opens in New York
Panel of offering goddesses. Central Tibet. 14th century. Gilt copper alloy with inlays of semiprecious stones. 10 1⁄8 x 15¼ x 6¼ in. (25.7 x 38.7 x 15.9 cm). Collection of David T. Owsley. Photo by Brad Flowers, courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art/
NEW YORK, NY.- Asia Society presents the first exhibition to explore the history, iconography, and extraordinary artistic production associated with the central Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Densatil that was destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution.

The exhibition reunites a selection of reliefs and sculptures salvaged from the Monastery’s towering thirteenth- to fifteenth-century inlaid gilt copper memorial stupas (tashi gomang). Works on view are from public and private collections in the United States and Europe.

Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery illuminates the artistry of the tashi gomang stupas—special memorial stupas masterfully designed and cast in relief by artists, including craftsmen from Nepal—and the spiritual journey toward enlightenment laid out in their imagery.

“Asia Society is pleased to present this exhibition, a first attempt to recapture the magnificent splendor of the Densatil Monastery and to create appreciation for its artistic, religious, and political aspects through new scholarship,” says Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu.

The exhibition examines the unique design of tashi gomang stupas as huge, three-dimensional mandalas, each comprising a square base supporting six tiers with a stupa at the top. Historical sources indicate that there were eight tashi gomang stupas in the main hall of the Densatil Monastery; they housed the mortal remains of Buddhist adherents.

To help viewers visualize the stupas, a selection of photographs taken by Pietro Francesco Mele during Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci’s 1948 expedition to Tibet are included. From February 19–23, monks from the Drigung (Drikung) school of Buddhism will create a colored sand mandala onsite in a small gallery. The completed sand mandala will be on display for the duration of the exhibition, and then ritually destroyed at its close.

Built in 1198, the Densatil Monastery was founded at the site inhabited by the monk Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170). Evolving from a hermitage, the Monastery was situated in a remote area of central Tibet close to the northern banks of the Tsangpo River. At the height of its power, the Densatil Monastery was one of the wealthiest Tibetan monasteries in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The iconographic program created by the monk Jigten Gonpo (1153–1217), a disciple of Phagmo Drupa, laid the foundation for the tradition of erecting tashi gomang stupas to commemorate deceased abbots.

Throughout its history, the site figured in conflicts amongst monastic schools and factions, but it remained intact for centuries until its destruction during China’s Cultural Revolution. Fragments and pieces of the site were salvaged and later dispersed around the world. In 1997, a new assembly hall and small temples were built on the site of the destroyed monastery and in 2010, a new main hall was constructed. Under the auspices of the Tibet Autonomous Region Ministry of Culture and the Drigung (Drikung) Kagyu school, reconstruction of the Densatil Monastery continues today.

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