The Rubin Museum’s Much Anticipated Mandala Lab to Open October 1st




Renderings: © Peterson Rich Office / The Rubin Museum of Art

This much anticipated gallery, encompassing the entire third floor of The Rubin Museum of Art, has finally been completed, and ready for its opening in September. This is almost one-year after closing that space, which once housed the permanent collection exhibition ‘Masterworks of Himalayan Art.’

The Rubin Museum of Art announced today that the newly finished third-floor, renamed the Mandala Lab,  is the Museum’s new interactive space for social, emotional, and ethical learning, and will open to the public on October 1, 2021, with a free admission during opening weekend, October 1-3. The remodeled third floor is designed by Brooklyn-based architecture and design firm Peterson Rich Office (PRO). The Mandala Lab invites visitors to participate in five thought-provoking and playful experiences, featuring videos accompanied by scents, a site-specific commissioned sculpture that invites collective breathing, and curated percussion instruments dipped in water.

Each activity aims to harness the power of difficult emotions and offer pathways to develop resilience, calmness, and connection. The new space will also function as the home for School and Family Programs, connecting younger generations to the teachings expressed in Himalayan art, through social, emotional, and ethical learning (SEE Learning), developed in partnership with Emory University.

Renderings: © Peterson Rich Office / The Rubin Museum of Art

“Visitors will be invited to smell, see, touch, and listen as they sense, interpret, and process their own thoughts and emotions, using the Mandala Lab as a lens for healing,” says Executive Director Jorrit Britschgi. “Given the emotional burden and tremendous social distress having come into sharper focus since 2020, the Mandala Lab hopes to serve as one the city’s first cultural healing spaces and be a source of insight and well-being.”

Envisioned as a sensorial experience, each of the activities on the floor takes inspiration from powerful Buddhist principles that focus on self-awareness and awareness of others. Visitors will engage with a scent and memory library with contributions from six artists and master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel; participate in a synchronized breathing activity with the aid of a newly commissioned pulsing light sculpture by New York–based artist Palden Weinreb; take part in a gong orchestra with eight gongs suspended over water curated by international musicians; and more. As visitors journey through the space they will examine feelings of pride, attachment, envy, anger, and ignorance—known as kleshas in Buddhism—that cloud our understanding of the world around us. Visitors will then be invited to experiment and attempt to transform these emotional states into a complementary wisdom. In this way, the Mandala Lab aims to offer tools and new perspectives for coping with the day-to-day challenges and emotional burdens brought about by personal and societal complexities—all heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Buddhism, the five kleshas are the key afflictive emotional responses that are the root cause of our suffering. Tantric Buddhist practitioners use mandalas as visualization aids to help transform these emotions,” says Tenzin Gelek, Senior Specialist, Himalayan Arts and Culture. “With the Mandala Lab, we’re using Buddhist wisdoms coupled with creative and interactive artworks and experiences to understand, unlock, and heal these difficult emotions within ourselves. This ‘mental gym’ invites us to face life with renewed wisdom and insights.”

Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room inside The Rubin Museum of Art

The Mandala Lab experiences have been created in consultation with cognitive scientists, Buddhist teachers, and contemplative humanities researchers, and feature contributions from a diverse group of contemporary multidisciplinary artists including musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson; visual artist Sanford Biggers; filmmaker Tenzin Tsetan Choklay; drummer Billy Cobham; experimental filmmaker and writer Amit Dutta; singer musician Sheila E.; musician Peter Gabriel; percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie; composer Sarah Hennies; composer Huang Ruo; percussionist Shivamani; video and installation artist Wang Yahui; film director, screenwriter, and producer Apichatpong Weerasethakul; visual artist Palden Weinreb; and composer and multi-instrumentalist Bora Yoon.

“When the commission was proposed, I was very excited by the opportunity to contribute to this exciting initiative,” says artist Palden Weinreb. “The Rubin is uniquely suited to refresh the dialogue between Buddhism and contemporary art, and I feel particularly aligned with the Mandala Lab’s innovative approach. It’s an honor to participate and hope my work will prove to be an inspiring addition to this thoughtfully reimagined space.”

The design, led by PRO founding architects Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich, takes architectural and conceptual inspiration from a particular Tibetan Buddhist mandala, the Sarvavid Vairochana Mandala. Tantric Buddhist practitioners use mandalas as a contemplative aid in visualization practices aimed to transform one’s ordinary emotions into the more desirable qualities of enlightened beings. Like a mandala, the Mandala Lab is divided into four quadrants pointing to the cardinal directions, with a main circular chamber—the center of the mandala—represented by the Rubin Museum’s central spiral staircase.

Tara Protecting from the Eight Fears. Origin: Khao Province, Southeastern Tibet. Date: late 19th ~ early 20th century. Credit: Rubin Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Michael Henss, Zurich. Visit the Ruben’s Online Collection with approximately 3,800 objects spanning more than 1,500 years to present day.

Highlights of the design include:

  • A 2,700-square-foot multipurpose open floor plan bounded by light, both natural and internally sourced, that converts for education, exhibition, or event needs
  • Fine metal mesh partitions that surround the spiral staircase and divide the space into four quadrants, allowing for visibility between the different experience
  • An alcove with rounded walls and acoustic panels where experiential and educational content can be deployed with a wide, drop-down projection screen
  • Flexible space for lights-on learning with tables and chairs

“The majority of the Rubin Museum galleries are designed for the display of artworks and objects,” say design principals Nathan Rich and Miriam Peterson. “This new space is designed for collective experience. The floor is deliberately more open and connected than the other five levels of the Museum. Individual spaces are separated from one another by a translucent scrim, allowing for interactive experiences that are physically distinct but visually interconnected.”

The Rubin Museum of Art is located at 150 West 17th Street, NYC. The Mandala Lab will open to the public on October 1, 2021, with free admission during opening weekend, from October 1-3. Opening Night Celebration will be Friday October 1st from 6:00 ~ 10:00pm. FREE. Proof of full vaccination required. RSVP Here.

A look-back at The Rubin Museum of Art Programming.