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Exhibition examines an 800-year-old artistic practice from the Drigung Kagyu School
The Protectress: Achi Chokyi Drolma and the Five Long-Life Sisters. Tibet; 14th century. Private Collection, Switzerland.

NEW YORK, NY.- Across all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism is the notion that a work of art has the power to transform and bestow a variety of benefits upon the beholder. Depending on the particular subject depicted in a painting, sculpture, or relic, the viewer gains such advantages as removing obstacles, acquiring merit, and purifying all sins, bringing benefits for this life and the next, simply by seeing it. The Rubin Museum of Art’s newest exhibit, Art with Benefits: the Drigung Tradition, explores this notion by exhibiting 39 works of art and objects created by one of the most important schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the 13th Century, the Drigung Kagyu School.

The Drigung Kagyu School makes the concept of benefits through art both visually and textually explicit in the artwork created by its followers. Art with Benefits highlights the distinctive and varying styles that have characterized Drigung art over its more than 800-year history through the present day, as well as the most commonly depicted subjects and the benefits they offer, including the Buddha type “Beneficial to See,” protectresses, wrathful deities, teachers, and footprints.

The exhibition is arranged thematically into nine categories, each focusing on a specific image type and the beneficial qualities ascribed to the key element represented on it. Each section will feature a quote that exemplifies their efficacy – what the image is believed to do to for the viewer. These include: The Buddha; The Teacher; The Footprint; The Hat; The Protectress; The Wrathful; The Deity; The Lotus Born; The Tree.

The exhibition also includes incredibly rare objects and some of the earliest Drigung art known (from about 1200 to the 19th century), including sacred footprints of the founder himself and examples of the image Shakyamuni Buddha “Beneficial to See.”

The Drigung Kagyu was one of the most prominent and powerful schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the Thirteenth century. Its main monastic seat, Drigung Thel Monastery, was founded in 1179 by the famous teacher Drigungpa Chenpo Jikten Sumgon (1143-1217), about 84 miles northeast of Lhasa. It flourished for a century, until it was leveled by a Mongolian Yuan army in the 1280s. Beginning in the late 17th century, Drigung developed its own distinctive painting style (Driri). However, the monastery was destroyed a second time in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution, which caused much of its art to be lost or dispersed. After being rebuilt in the 1980s, the monastery is once again active and influential. Over the centuries, the Drigung tradition also spread to other areas including parts of Ladakh, northwestern Nepal, western Tibet, and Kham, where it continues to flourish, as well as a new seat in northern India.

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