Many Buddhist sculptures, paintings, and other works in the Rubin Museum of Art’s collection have a long and varied history, with some used for meditative practice in shrines or as a visual focal point for the faithful.
This inherent contemplative tradition makes the Rubin’s collection a perfect fit for Slow Art Day 2016, an international celebration held on April 9 that encourages visitors to slow down and view different pieces of art for a full 10 minutes each. There are 166 museums participating this year, and Slow Art Day started in 2008.
Dominique Townsend, the assistant director of interpretation and engagement at the New York City museum, said the idea is a “radical shift” from the way many people relate to art in galleries. Recalling last year’s Slow Art Day, she said it was “clear [visitors were] operating on a different mode than the people who pass through the galleries.”
The museum has selected five pieces of art to contemplate. Visitors can view the art with a guide and attend a formal talk afterwards. Townsend said visitors are also encouraged to view the art at their own pace, perhaps setting a timer on their smartphone and engaging with other gallery visitors about their experience.
Townsend, who has given countless tours to visitors of varying ages, said she had a completely new experience when she spent 10 minutes with one of the pieces featured in Slow Art Day: “Tara Protecting from the 8 Fears,” a 19th-century cloth painting from Kham Province in eastern Tibet.
“I was aware of things like movement in paintings—the almost subtle quality of animation in some figures—and the sheer magnetism of the central figure. I knew I had plenty of time, I was not rushing, and the central figure really held my gaze in a powerful way,” she said. “Most people sit for 10 minutes and have the feeling that they’re ready to move on, but it’s interesting to challenge yourself to see where you go when you go deeper.”
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