Donald Rubin on Buying Art

Question: What are your favorite Asian countries to visit for art?

Rubin:    I’ve been to all the countries at least once.  I don’t buy a lot in Asia.  There was only one funny exception, which I’d like to tell a story about.  I was in Bhutan three or four years ago and I was being driven around in Paro by the former head of the museum in Paro and who’s a high Lama, [Manuk Tuko], and my wife wanted to stop at a store because she was looking for fabrics and textiles to buy for our shop at the museum.   And this man had three or four Bhutanese paintings and I looked at them and I said, “This one here is 19th century, isn’t it illegal to bring this painting out of Bhutan?”  He said, “Yes, but nobody’s going to open your luggage, don’t worry about it.”  And I don’t want to get in a fight with him, what would be the use of it, right?  And we bought the painting, and on the last day we were there, I’d made an offering of the painting to this very high lama and former director of the museum to present it to the museum as thank you for everything that you have done and he accepted it.  So, everybody in Bhutan that comes to visit and we just had a huge 3 ½-month Bhutan show in New York, everybody in Bhutan, you know, the Prince and the Queen and elderly people who know about that story because I think it’s the first time that a westerner bought something, didn’t take it out and donated it.  So, we were very proud of it.

Question: Is there contemporary art emerging from Tibet?

Rubin:    There is a very rich group of artists, not rich in the sense of money, but rich in the sense of good art that are painting.  And the museum, I think, will have a show in a couple of years, but that art is owned by my wife and myself.  But I was last this past weekend I was in Atlanta at a small school I went to 52 years ago called Oglethorpe, which has done show after show on Himalayan art, even before Tibetan art, even before I knew that existed and we’ve done a lot of shows there, and they have 43 contemporary Tibetan paintings.  And we were there for the weekend, I just came back yesterday afternoon, and it’s a spectacular show.  It’s a spectacular show.

Donald Rubin on the secrets of uncovering the best pieces.

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