World leaders should see the Frost Art Museum's latest exhibits

October was a strange month. It began with Barack Obama shunning the Dalai Lama in order to keep hardliners in Communist China mollified. Just a few days later, the president unexpectedly joined the Tibetan Buddhist as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate while drawing fire from both the right and left.

One wonders what either man was thinking when, by October's end, the Pentagon announced the United States had suffered the greatest number of American casualties in a single month since the beginning of the eight-year war in Afghanistan. Things seem to be turning for the worse on the martial front for Obama, who is facing demands to send more troops in hopes of changing the course of the increasingly unpopular and growing war.

Those are some of the issues that might come to mind at the Frost Art Museum, where a timely show happened to open when our prez was dissing the Dalai Lama and the Nobel Committee members might have had visions of Obama's Pax Americana dancing in their heads.

Lewis deSoto's Paranirvana (1999)
Lewis deSoto's Paranirvana (1999)

Location Info

Map

The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum

10975 SW 17th St.
Miami, FL 33199

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Coral Gables

Details

"The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama" and "Lacuna in Testimony": Through January 10. "En Vista": Through December 6. Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; thefrost.fiu.eduTuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

"The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama" corrals the works of more than 80 artists whose photos, videos, installations, paintings, sculptures, and tapestries honor the global spiritual leader and Buddhist who has devoted his life to demonstrating the path to peace.

The sprawling exhibit offers a provocative and varied collection of takes on the Tibetan holy man, the principles of Buddhism, and the value of all sentient life, by the likes of Chuck Close, Laurie Anderson, Bill Viola, Anish Kapoor, Jenny Holzer, Marina Abramovic, and many other top-tier names.

The show opens with a sound and video installation by filmmakers David Hodge and Hi-Jin Hodge. In Impermanence: The Time of Man, they used 16 speakers and a 16-channel video on iPods to explore the temporal nature of life. For their eye-catching piece, the duo interviewed 120 people to gather their thoughts on the fleeting nature of life, who we are as human beings, and how people coexist in the world today.

Standing in front of the crowd of talking heads that appear on the tiny, business card-sized screens, viewers might become confused by the overlapping voices drowning out each other's opinions. At first, the crowing cacophony is reminiscent of a raucous City of Miami commission meeting, until the voices reach a crescendo and almost sound like prayerful chants. The piece evokes the sense of people coming together to celebrate the universal aspirations that bind us in a common humanity, rather than the seemingly inexorable differences that separate us.

Another installation that twangs a similar chord is Marina Abramovic's continuous video loop titled At the Waterfall. Between 2000 and 2003, the artist collected 120 video portraits of monks and nuns, representing five Tibetan Buddhist traditions, during prayer. Her videos are projected simultaneously in a grid on a large wall, with the overlapping devotions melodiously flowing together as if to form a cascading babel or a roaring waterfall.

One of the most impressive works on display is Lewis deSoto's bus-size inflatable Buddha, which appears to be fashioned from distressed denim. The piece, Paranirvana, examines how Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, continued walking the earth after attaining enlightment in order to teach others how to achieve salvation. The holy man preached his last sermon at the age of 80 before dying and entering nirvana. After the artist lost his father, he superimposed his own visage on the inflatable sculpture to question how he would face the moment of his own death.

Across from deSoto's whopper, Andra Samelson's Bamiyan: A Continuum offers a stinging commentary on fundamentalist Taliban thugs' destruction of the colossal Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Blasted apart in 2001 in a savage act of censorship, the statues were considered the largest of their kind.

By combining 108 indigo blue Buddhas in a repeating pattern in ink and acrylic on rice paper and wood panel, Samelson delivers a message that beauty and culture are transcendent through the possibility of replication.

Long-Bin Chen explores the relationship between Buddhism and DNA using a helix-like stack of Manhattan phone books he regards as the cultural refuse of an information society. His World Buddha Head Project depicts the faces of the Buddha, an animal, and a human carved into the tower of Yellow Pages, blending into each other to remark how all sentient beings share the same life spark.

Many of the works are traditional portraits of the Dalai Lama, including a black-and-white snap by the late fashion shutterbug Richard Avedon.

Among the most compelling of these is Bill Viola's video, situated at the entrance of the show, which captures the holy man delivering a prayer. Viola and his family visited the spiritual leader in Dharamsala, India, in 2005. In the brief video, the Dalai Lama offers a prayer and pauses a moment to cough before continuing his serene benediction. The scene feels like the man is personally greeting each and every person attending the show.

One of Viola's more visceral works, Bodies of Light, is tucked into an alcove near the rear of the museum gallery. In it, male and female torsos appear on opposite video screens that shimmer with electronic snow. Suddenly, glowing orbs pop up and float over the bodies' chakras, or internal points of spiritual energy. Figures begin to dissolve while bone and sinew appear, creating the odd impression of watching a Discovery Channel episode about alien abduction and weird experiments.

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