What happens when we die?
Some people have clear ideas about the afterlife. Others fear it; still others seek paths of enlightenment, or second chances such as those depicted in the newest exhibit at the Rubin Museum, Death is Not the End that will remain on view through January 14, 2024.
Lined with fantastical beings, animals, hybrid figures, lost souls, and resurrections, this cross-cultural exhibition pairs artwork from Tibetan Buddhist and Christian frameworks for an assemblage of 58 objects spanning 12 centuries from the Rubin Museum’s collection alongside artworks on loan from private collections and major institutions.
Both cultures embrace the certainty of mortality in this world and both promise a better existence beyond this lifetime; likewise, they advance the acceptance and inevitability of death tied to rebirth and an afterlife that depends on how well one has lived on earth.
“During a time of great global uncertainty, loss, and turmoil, many question and ponder the various ideas related to the afterlife,” said Elena Pakhoutova, curator of the exhibit and Senior Curator of Himalayan Art.
She ticked off a list of pop-culture “dark comedies” that depict the afterlife hinting at a preoccupation with death: After Life, This Is Us, The Sinner, The Good Place, The Walking Dead, Kidding, Upload, Six Feet Under, Dead Like Me, Sorry for Your Loss, Pushing Daisies, Go On, Time of Death, Russian Dolls, and Black Mirror.
“I hope this exhibition inspires conversations around the sometimes challenging or uncomfortable topic of what comes after life, as well as respect for different perspectives and approaches,” said Pakhoutova.
The transience of earthly life, which is subject to death and decay is illustrated in A Woman Divided into Two Representing Life and Death (18th century), an allegorical vision of the human condition – calling on the viewer to live a less selfish life.
The Last Judgment by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch (late 16th century) vividly portrays the horrors of hell to persuade Christians to renounce immoral living in anticipation of the Last Judgment and salvation.
This exhibit is likely to stay with viewers for a good long time. Be it the man in the left hand corner of the engraving, The Inferno, being forced to drink molten coins as a punishment for his sin of greed or, the concentric circles of rainbow light above turbulent waters with cleansing powers to remove all obstacles for a better rebirth in the Sarvavid Album Leaf: Palaces of Light, viewers may find themselves wrestling with their own iterations of eternity.
Bookended by two interactive displays: a sand table where visitors can create an image in the sand and let it dissolve and in the final installation, visitors share their views anonymously of rebirth, afterlife, belief systems and where do you think we go next, or do we?
The Rubin Museum of Art
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