Contemporary Art

Mongolian Painter, Bavuu Erdenebayar

During the H1N1 Flu outbreak in Mongolia, all public gathering places were closed for several weeks to prevent further spread of the flu.  In December, they began to slowly re-open museums, theaters, etc. In a fit of boredom, I walked around the city and discovered the Red Ger Gallery was open!  The gallery is located on the first floor of the Zanabaazar Museum.  I wandered in and discovered they were having an unannounced opening for the solo exhibition of the painter, Bavuu Erdenebayar. 

What an interesting exhibition and conversation I had with him.  His paintings were based on anecdotes from Mongolian culture and folklore; “folk wisdom”.  His shapes are very fluid and organic and I immediately recognized the resemblance between his work and that of Miro.  There is also a cartoon or Anime like quality to his work.  And when he showed me a small children’s activity book he published, it didn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve noticed when attending exhibitions in Mongolia, artists often don’t include an artist statement. But Bavuu did, and even though we had a great conversation about art and his art, I appreciated his thoughtful statement.

Here it is:

“All life is connected to each other – humans, animals, nature.  A new era is coming and everyone must be ready to accept this new era.  In this era, you can realize your mistakes and change yourself to be a better person. Due to aggression, struggle, conflict of the past era, our nature and the world have suffered day after day.  The Mongols understand bad things. Bad human character brings unhappiness and causes bad things. So we can live in peace and happiness if we respect our own traditions and follow customs and habits inherited from our ancestors.  The next generation should accept and follow these carefully.  Whether or not you want to follow them, there are certain rules you must follow.  There is a natural law and everyone must follow the natural law.  There are some laws created by humans but they can be changed or violated.  So the law of life is included in folk proverbs, wise words and books. Ex. – ‘It’s better to see once than to hear it one thousand times.’  Humans always forget what they hear, but not what they’ve seen. So you should see this exhibition with your own eyes.”

It’s been many years since I first came across the work of Nicholas Roerich. I can’t remember how I became acquainted with him… Perhaps while doing some research related to Tibet or Central Asia. But I remember, several years ago, visiting the townhouse on the upper west side of Manhattan that houses a museum dedicated to him. A fascinating Russian painter and philosopher who lived a great deal of his life in India and Asia. He wrote the “Pax Cultura”, an international treaty dedicated to the protection of cultural values and peace through higher culture. He was also nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, about the time of the Russian Revolution and prior to living in Asia, he spent some time in the U.S., including a short time in my home town of Chicago – at the invitation of Chicago’s Art Institute. He would have celebrated his 135th birthday this past week on October 9th, same day as my grandfather’s. And so it was a bit synchronistic for me to find out this summer that he had also lived in Ulaanbaatar for a year.

A famous Mongolian historian, Professor Bira, had discovered the decaying, Russian-style wooden house that Roerich and his family lived in from 1926-27. Professor Bira and a group of supporters saved the house from demolition, restored it and dedicated it as a museum and art gallery this past July. An art competition and exhibition for young Mongolian artists was also held there recently. Rumor is that the founders and supporters hope to develop an art center in Roerich’s memory on the site. For more information about the Roerich museum in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, visit: