The Rubin Museum of Art, a popular haven for lovers of Buddhist art and education in New York City, is set to officially close its doors on 6 October this year, after two decades of operation. This decision will result in a 40 per cent reduction in the museum’s current staff.
Initially opened in 2004 inside a former Barney’s department store, the museum will transition into a decentralized model focusing on research, traveling exhibitions, long-term loans, funding, and scholarship programs.
“The definition of what a museum is has evolved dramatically in recent years,” the museum’s board president, Noah Dorsky, said in a statement. “Historically, the Rubin’s culture embraces continual change and evolution, and in our new incarnation we are redefining what a museum can be.” (The New York Times)
The move to a spaceless institution is a strategic effort to modernize the museum and address the challenges faced by traditional museum structures. Jorrit Britschgi, the museum’s director since 2017, expressed the need make difficult changes to remain relevant.
“It’s leveraging the collection, leveraging our knowledge, leveraging our financial resources, and really thinking about what we’ve always been thinking about, which is: how is it that a museum in the 21st century still looks very much like a museum of the 20th century?” Britschgi said in an interview. “How can we redefine how we operate as an organization?” (ARTNews)
Journalist, writer, and photographer Thomas Laird, who specializes in the art and culture of the Himalayas, offered his thanks to the museum and expressed sadness at its closure as a physical space.
Laird’s work, including photographing the Dalai Lama’s private retreat at the Lukhang Temple in Lhasa, has helped bring the intricate beauty of Tibetan art to the world. He writes: “[I] could never have followed this dream without support from Donald and Shelly Rubin and the Rubin Museum. While I am excited to see what future the Rubin Museum of Art has as a new kind of global institution, today I am sad to hear the news that it will close its doors on 6 October 2024.” (Linkedin)
The Rubin Museum, known for its Tibetan Buddhist shrine room and Himalayan art collection, has faced accusations of showcasing stolen works over the years. In 2022 and 2023, researchers provided evidence regarding the origins of certain pieces, leading the museum to voluntarily repatriate them.
A museum spokesperson stated, “Should we learn that objects in our care have been documented as stolen or looted, the museum will address all claims responsibly, which could include the return of the objects to countries of origin.” (TimeOut)
The museum’s final exhibition, “Reimagine: Himalayan Art Now,” will debut on 15 March and conclude on 6 October.
Despite the closure of its physical space, the Rubin Museum plans to continue as an organization that provides long-term loans, facilitates research, and supports Himalayan art initiatives. As the museum transitions, it will continue to circulate its collection, providing long-term loans and supporting the study of Himalayan art. The repatriation efforts initiated by the museum will persist, with a commitment to responsible handling of claims related to stolen or looted artifacts.
The decision to close the physical space is not attributed to pandemic-related challenges, but rather part of the museum’s broader effort to adapt to the evolving landscape of art institutions. The museum noted that the closure highlighted its commitment to a decentralized and globally oriented model.
Rubin Museum of Art
Rubin Museum, Haven for Asian Art, to Close After 20 Years (The New York Times)
Rubin Museum to Shutter New York Space After 20 Years, Pivot to ‘Global’ Model (ARTnews)
The Rubin Museum will close in Manhattan after 20 years (TimeOut)
Thomas Laird (Linkedin)
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