Enlightenment Slips Away, Leaving Sweetness in Its Wake

By the time you read this, I am afraid you will have already missed the world class exhibit “The Second Buddha: Master of Time” organized by the Rubin Museum of Art and proudly displayed in the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.

I was able to catch The Second Buddha just before it was taken down, and can provide a few highlights – the first of which is to say that it’s a shame you didn’t see it, too, because it was masterfully presented and the experience was impactful.

The Tang hosted 40 images of the Second Buddha, the legendary Indian Buddhist master Padmasambhava, in paintings, on cloth, and forged in metal that dated back from a few hundred to over 800 years old. The images were so crisply illuminated on red walls I quickly forgot I was in Saratoga Springs, and felt the art could easily been housed in any of the finest museums in the world.

Padmasmbhava hid his teachings throughout the images in what were known as hidden treasure teachings, designed to help the viewer get a small step closer to enlightenment. There are a few photos at the bottom of this post to give you a taste of what you missed…perhaps enlightenment in absentia is a thing?

But don’t worry too much if you missed this one, though missing out on the possibility of enlightenment has got to sting. Thankfully, the Tang is always a great visit with a wide variety of art to see.

The other main exhibit, “Like Sugar”, is an in-depth exploration of the powerful forces that were shaped by our taste for sweetness; from it being the foundation of early empires to the ecological devastation and health epidemics it is causing today.

The exhibited work of contemporary artists such as Vik Muniz, Julia Jacquette, Emily Eveleth and others on one hand celebrate the joyful nature of sugar, while at the same time take a deeper view of the more problematic aspects of how this multilayered substance affects us.

I got caught up in the brightly colored paintings and fun sculptures made of honeycomb among vibrantly stacked sugar blocks, but kept returning to ponder the sculpture of a young boy carrying a sugar basket juxtaposed among large digital prints of warehouses and a painting of a plantation.

Don’t ignore the elevator the Tang has creatively transformed into an ongoing series as an art space, they are up to the 38th iteration of this every-changing – and ever-moving – installation.

In just a few rooms, the curators, who are from the Skidmore faculty, adeptly portray the complex role sugar plays in global economics, politics and the environment, while also displaying historical materials and cultural images that will raise questions and provide a space for dialogue about the role sugar plays in our lives.

The final glimpses of The Second Buddha were available to a few lucky visitors on June 1. Like Sugar is scheduled through June 19, so get there soon.

In addition to great art, the Tang has an active schedule of events like talks and tours in support of their art exhibits, live music, and documentaries. Visit www.tang.skidmore.edu for a full calendar of events and a list of past and upcoming exhibits.

The Tang itself is a hidden treasure the barrier to entry is just a short drive and a $5 suggested donation, don’t miss out at the opportunity to see great art when it is in our own backyard.

– Daniel Laiosa

1) A sculpture carved from honeycomb from the “Like Sugar” installation.

2) An installation view of “Like Sugar.” The hung photos are Zineb Sedira’s Sugar Silo I & II

3) Featured in The Second Buddha: Master of Time, statues from the 15th and 17th century images of Padmasambhava with 19th century cloth depictions in the background.

4) A collection of 19th century sugar dishes from “Like Sugar.”

Opening photo: A 17th Century sculpture of Padmasambhava seated in the vajra position, which symbolizes his miraculous birth and indestructible power. (Photo credit for all images: Dan Laiosa).

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