Notes from The International Art Museum of America

The International Art Museum of America opened its doors on October, 15th, 2011. This institution showcases works made by the alleged reincarnation of the primordial sambhogakaya Buddha.  Earlier this week, Artist Andy Gouveia and I paid the museum a visit and stepped into the world of H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III. I only came up with a couple of drawings and some verbatim notes of description labels. There were odd curatorial choices that made it hard to observe and understand some of the pieces. The interior also looked like Tony Montana’s house so the lavishness was distracting at times. One thing is certain, the IAMA is unlike any other art museum in San Francisco.

Bust of H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III. Andy observed that the text by this piece “smacks down other Buddhas”, stating that they are only self-conferred reincarnations. The label told us that Chang Buddha III was tested and approved by a number of Tibetan Buddhist sects.

The museum celebrates the work of H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III but there were very few of his original paintings on display. Most of the artist’s two-dimensional works were scans or photo reproductions printed on traditional hanging scrolls. Andy and I even saw pixelation in some of pieces. All the paintings were hung within glass display cases. We spent a lot of time getting close to the pieces — fogging the glass up with or breath —  asking each other “is this one real?” Many of the reproductions had areas of opaque paint or textured varnish brushed on top to make them more unique.

There were a number of original, western style paintings (primarily from the 19th century) on display. Unlike the Buddha pieces, the European paintings had descriptive labels with dates and the artist’s country of origin. These works did not have their own section; they were hung next to more H.H Dorje Chang Buddha III paintings. To show his admiration of western art, the Buddha made two paintings based on works by Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. These works combined oil paint and what looked like spray foam to achieve three-dimensional effects. It was described as the “Thickly Piled Patches of Color” style.

H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III is inspired by van Gogh, paints a picture, then the Dutch artist is dismissed.

The sculptural works on display were interesting and fun to look at. On the IAMA website, the sculptures are described as faux boulders. Cavernous worlds exist within these egg-like objects. Andy and I guessed that they were most likely made from the foam spray seen in some of the Buddha’s other paintings and decorative frames. Each piece sat upon rippling silky fabric, fully enclosed in glass. Andy commented that if the sculptures were placed on plain white pedestals with no enclosure, they would resemble something seen at YBCA or some other contemporary gallery.

“Yun” art is still a mystery to me. I wasn’t able to find any information on the Yun process or the materials involved.

There is no doubt that H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III is a prolific artist. However, the International Art Museum of America collection showed us the work of a dabbler. There were many beautiful works on display but the word “mastery” did not come to mind when viewing them. The quality of Buddha’s calligraphy was questionable and the extravagantly ornate paintings (and exhibition space) seemed contradictory to Buddhist ideals. Andy and I left the museum with more questions than before. I still feel ignorant of Tibetan Buddhist doctrines and H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III is more enigmatic than ever.

If you have read this far or have recently visited the IAMA please share your thoughts.

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