Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure 

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Flush with the conviction of a lived faith, some of the paintings in the Art Institute's magnificent "Himalayas" show are as fine as any art now on view in Chicago. Three of the best are Tibetan. The dazzling detail of the 12th-century Scenes From the Life of Buddha Shakyamuni gives it a map-of-the-world completeness. The central Buddha, whose smile is neither happy nor amused, is surrounded by vignettes of his life encased in a symmetrical framework that's like a transcendent form organizing the vagaries of daily existence. The Bhaishajyaguru Buddha is described in the catalog as a "mentor of healing"; what's most stunning in the 14th-century Bhaishajyaguru Mandala is the contrast between his dark blue skin and the gold relief edging his garment. Milarepa on Mount Kailash (c. 1500) portrays the famous mystic and composer seated in a mountain cave, snowy peaks soaring above him like a Western cathedral's spires. While his right hand reaches toward the earth, the wavy green bands below him and the mountains above create a feeling that he's floating between earth and sky, firmly anchored in neither. One caveat for those who prefer to look at art in silence: the museum is piping in traditional music. What's next, guards dressed to match the exhibits? Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams, through August 17. Hours are 10:30 to 4:30 on Monday, 10:30 to 8 Tuesday, 10:30 to 4:30 Wednesday through Friday, and 10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday; 312-443-3600.

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