R&R at the Rubin Museum of Art

R&R at the Rubin Museum of Art

When the Rubin Museum of Art opened in 2004, trend-spotting press reacted with haughty surprise. How could a glam site of self-indulgent retail (a Barneys New York department store) become a gallery tower displaying objects of Tibetan Buddhism? The transformation, however, soon made its case, drawing visitors through a new portal and into 25,000 square feet of galleries that encircle the original, six-story, Andrée Putman-designed, steel and marble staircase. Current exhibitions, almost all in place into early 2018, feature Himalayan masterpieces, photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson’s images of India) and, throughout the building, “sonic experiences” that soothe and open the western mind.  

The permanent collection, assembled since 1974 by Donald and Shelley Rubin, now consists of more than 3,000 objects including paintings, sculpture and textiles, as well as ritual objects from the 2nd to the 20th centuries. The founders acknowledge feeling an “emotional rush” from art depicting the worlds of serene sages as well as internal demons. To that end, programs engage the senses in many ways—art demonstrations, daily tours, “Family Sundays,” Wednesday Happy Hour with wine and light fare, talks and, in the theater, film screenings and performances of live music, dance and poetry.

Beside the soaring lobby, Café Serai with counter service offers an evolving menu of small plates inspired by Indian and Tibetan cuisine. Consider lunch or an early dinner here on the mezzanine with its dark wood columns, gleaming floor, flicker lights on red tabletops and glowing perimeter. Begin with an inventive cocktail—the Bay of Bengal of gin, elderflower, cucumber and basil; the Philosopher’s Stone of vodka, sake, lemon and (Cantonese) ginger-flavored liqueur; or the cleverly named OM Sweet OM of vanilla vodka, lime and coconut rum. Tasty dishes at a recent meal: burrata salad with truffle vinaigrette and fruit, confit duck momos, lamb meatballs with spicy tomato sauce, chicken tikka masala with naan and Biryani-style lamb over crispy red rice.

On Friday nights, the café becomes the K2 Lounge, and the museum, open until 10 pm, charges no admission and adds a full bar, DJs, films and live music. The museum opens at 11 am daily (except Tuesday), with admission-free access to its café and museum shop until closing.

150 W. 17th St. (at Seventh Ave.) in Chelsea, 212.620.5000 www.rubinmuseum.org 

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