The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) presents Tsherin Sherpa: Spirits, the first solo museum exhibition of the Nepalese-born Tibetan American contemporary artist. On view from February 19 to October 16, 2022, Spirits is a tightly focused mid-career retrospective of Tsherin Sherpa’s captivating and sublime paintings and sculptures.
“Visitors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts may remember seeing Tsherin Sherpa’s paintings in the museum’s 2019 exhibition Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment,” Alex Nyerges, VMFA Director and CEO, said. “We are excited to present an exhibition of works by this globally acclaimed artist as the themes he explores — including the quest for individual and collective identity in a rapidly changing world — are universally relatable and compelling.”
Sherpa was born in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1968, and immigrated to the United States 30 years later. From a young age, he studied Tibetan thangka painting with his father Master Urgen Dorje. He eventually moved away from this form of traditional painting and began creating original work that draws on both Tibetan Buddhist iconography and the imagery of popular culture, exploring the interplay of the sacred and the secular and giving shape to the artist’s own cross-cultural experiences.
“Spirits is a captivating exhibition that will intrigue those who have an interest in contemporary global art, traditional Asian art, Tibet and Buddhism,” exhibition organizer Dr. John Henry Rice, VMFA’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, said. “Not only are Sherpa’s 36 works in the exhibition visually mesmerizing, but each is layered with meaning. Part autobiography, part social commentary, they contain the artist’s contemplation of struggles faced by Tibetans and other displaced peoples while inviting viewers to examine their own experiences with loss and re-empowerment.”
Presented as a narrative, the exhibition traces Sherpa’s Spirits, a series conceived soon after he shifted away from traditional painting and that has continued to evolve throughout the course of his career.
“The story told by these works’ half-human, half-Tibetan-deity subjects is one of cultural loss, protracted struggle, eventual victory, wisdom gained and identity recovered,” Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, said. “I believe that visitors to the exhibition will be captivated, moved and inspired by these works of art.”
The painting Spirits (Metamorphosis) portrays two Spirits at just that moment of recovering their identity. Surrounded by butterflies symbolizing transformation, they discover under the dripping pigmentation of their bodies an internal power visualized as energetically swirling colors.
With Skippers (Kneedeep) — Sherpa’s first work to fully translate his painting into three dimensions — these empowering polychrome forms inhabit the body of a cheeky bubblegum-blowing Spirit clad only in golden briefs.
The sculptural installation Wish-Fulfilling Tree offers audiences a unique participatory experience. The seven-layer offering mandala, made from copper and ornamented with Spirit faces, was originally created to hold the wishes of survivors of Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake. Now it beckons visitors to write their own wishes on pieces of paper that will be inserted into the piece.
The finale of Spirits is a new work — Sherpa’s largest painting to date — created expressly for the exhibition. In it, Sherpa reflects on the long journey he and his Spirits have traveled.
The artist’s prolific Spirits body of work will be explored through a candid conversation between Sherpa and Dr. Rice on February 17, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. in the museum’s Leslie Cheek Theater. For more information about Tsherin Sherpa: Spirits and programs related to the exhibition, visit www.VMFA.museum.
Tickets for the exhibition Tsherin Sherpa: Spirits are now on sale: $10 for adults and $8 for seniors 65+, youth 7–17 and college students with ID. The exhibition is free for VMFA members, children ages 6 and under, and active-duty military personnel and their immediate families.
About the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States. VMFA, which opened in 1936, is a state agency and privately endowed educational institution. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art, and to encourage the study of the arts.
Through the Office of Statewide Partnerships program, the museum offers curated exhibitions, arts-related audiovisual programs, symposia, lectures, conferences, and workshops by visual and performing artists. In addition to presenting a wide array of special exhibitions, the museum provides visitors with the opportunity to experience a global collection of art that spans more than 6,000 years. VMFA’s permanent holdings encompass nearly 50,000 artworks, including the largest public collection of Fabergé outside of Russia, the finest collection of Art Nouveau outside of Paris, and one of the nation’s finest collections of American art. VMFA is also home to important collections of Chinese art, English silver, and French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, British sporting, and modern and contemporary art, as well as renowned South Asian, Himalayan, and African art.
In May 2010, VMFA opened its doors to the public after a transformative expansion, the largest in its history.
The museum has undertaken an exciting $190 million expansion and renovation, anticipated to be complete in late 2025. International architectural firm SmithGroup is charged with designing a 105,000-square-foot wing for contemporary art, African art, photography, special exhibitions, and events; a new 40,000-square-foot collections center to accommodate an expanded conservation department and collections storage; and 45,000 square feet of renovations to the museum’s 1936 building, 1970 building, and Leslie Cheek Theater.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the only art museum in the United States open 365 days a year with free general admission. For additional information, telephone 804.340.1400 or visit www.VMFA.museum.