The Best Galleries And Museums In Mongolia's Capital City, Ulaanbaatar
Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, has experienced sweeping changes in attitudes towards its arts and culture. From the celebrated religious artworks of monk and artist Zanabazar to the near destruction of Buddhist culture during the Communist purges of the 1930s, Ulaanbaatar is now steadily building a vibrant contemporary art scene that celebrates Mongolia’s long-standing cultural traditions, while encouraging modern art creation.
Situated in Ulaanbaatar’s Palace of Culture in the historic Sukhbaatar Square, scene of many political demonstrations in Mongolia, the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery was officially established in 1991. Dedicated to raising awareness and appreciation of Mongolian visual arts, the gallery hosts regular exhibitions of both classic and contemporary artwork and owns a permanent collection of paintings, sculptures and carvings including artist Tsevegjav Ochir’s famous realist painting, The Fight of the Stallions. The gallery’s recent contemporary exhibitions have included a joint Mongolian-French exhibition, Nomadic Spirit in Ulaanbaatar, featuring French photographer Tim Desgraupes, which explored Mongolia’s evolving culture and people, juxtaposed with the rapid urban development of the capital city. Another recent exhibition, Nano World, mixed art with science, aiming to demonstrate the importance of nanotechnology through the medium of art.
976 Art Gallery, established in April 2012, is the labor of love of owner and avid art appreciator Gantuya Badamgarev. Gantuya, who is also the founder of the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association, wanted to provide a space to promote the work of contemporary Mongolian artists to national and international audiences. The spacious and well-lit gallery has 400 square feet of exhibition space and displays over 100 paintings, sculptures and other art installations alongside a number of artworks available for purchase. Among the gallery’s thought-provoking exhibitions was Lost Children of Heaven, which explored the rapid modernization of Mongolia and featured work by young native artists, including Avirmed Bayarmagnai and Orkhontuul Banzragch. In late 2013, 976 Art Gallery achieved an important milestone when it displayed a collection of artworks by modern European and American masters, including Salvador Dali and Walter Womacka – the first exhibition of its kind in Mongolia.
Founded in 1966, the Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum is dedicated to the works of its namesake, Undur Gegeen Zanabazar (1635-1724), who was the first Resplendent Saint of Mongolia and is renowned for his contribution to Mongolian fine arts. Some of Zanabazar’s featured work includes his intricately sculpted brass statues of Buddhist goddess Sita Tara, the Five Dhyani Buddhas and the Bodhi Stupa, a Buddhist shrine. The museum, which boasts 12 galleries in total, also displays artwork from the 18th to 20th centuries, including beautiful coral masks and thangkas, as well as works by acclaimed modern painter Baldugiin Sharav, and regularly hosts contemporary art exhibitions. The museum building itself is steeped in history – built in 1905 by a Russian merchant, it was one of the first buildings designed in a European style and became a Russian military station in 1921.
Located in busy central Ulaanbaatar within the Khan Bank Building, the Red Ger Art Gallery is overseen by the Arts Council of Mongolia, which supports the development of arts and culture in the country. Launched in 2002, Red Ger aims to promote Mongolian art both within the country and abroad while nurturing and supporting new, emerging talent. To this end, 70% from the sale of each painting goes directly to the artist that created it, while the remaining 30% goes to the Arts Council to fund further arts projects. The gallery has also exhibited western modern art, as it did with Norman Rockwell’s America, a show jointly organised by the Arts Council, the Norman Rockwell Museum and the US Embassy in Mongolia to celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the US. It featured Rockwell’s famous works ‘The Problem We All Live With’ and ‘No Swimming.’
Situated within a luxury apartment complex on the north-eastern edge of the Khan-Uul District, the modern and stylish Marshal Art Gallery showcases the works of both local and international artists, alongside a programme of arts education and arts-related social activities aimed at promoting and supporting art creation in Mongolia. One of the most recent additions to Ulaanbaatar’s arts scene, the Marshal Art Gallery opened in May 2013. Within this short time, the gallery has exhibited artworks of home-grown talent, including internationally acclaimed Mongolian painter Bold Dolgorjav and young, up-and-coming artist B. Sodnomdarjaa. The gallery has also hosted, in association with Liu Dawei, artist and chairman of the Chinese Artists Association, an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art.
The National Museum of Mongolia, located centrally just across the street from the Government Palace in Sukhbaatar Square, is home to a wealth of artifacts chronicling the history and culture of Mongolia from the Stone Age up to the modern era. The current museum building, which is set over three floors, opened in 1971, although the museum itself dates back to 1924, when it began to amass its impressive collection of relics. Among the items on display are a number of deer stones (megaliths thought to date back to the Bronze Age with detailed carvings of reindeer and other animals), beautiful silverwork created by the Dariganga people, and correspondence dating to back 1246 between Guyuk Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, and Pope Innocent IV. One hall is dedicated to Mongolia’s modern history and the democratic revolution of 1990.
Gandan Monastery, or Gandantegchinlen to use its full name, is one of the country’s most important monasteries. It is also one of the few monasteries that was not destroyed during the Communist religious purges of 1937, when over 2,000 temples were eradicated and around 18,000 Buddhist lamas were killed. The construction of Gandan Monastery (‘The Great Place of Complete Joy’) began in 1838, but it remains an important religious site today, housing four colleges of Buddhism and the Ondor Gegeen Zanabazar Buddhist University, which was established in 1970. Among the many temples within the monastery are the Didan-Livran, home to the 13th Dalai Lama in 1904, and the majestic Migjid Janraisig Sum, filled with images of the Buddhist god of longevity, Ayush. Gandan Monastery is best visited in the morning, when guests can witness resident monks chanting prayers.
The small, relatively unknown Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum was inspired by the heroism of former Prime Minister Peljidiin Genden. He refused to carry out the purges of the 1930s ordered by Stalin that resulted in the deaths of around 35,000 Mongolians, and was subsequently executed. The museum building, once owned by Genden, was opened in 1996 by his daughter Genden Tserendulam, and is a haunting, sombre tribute to the victims of the purges. The items within the two-storey wooden building were collected with financial aid from the post-Communist government and include a reproduction of the prison cells captives were incarcerated in, as well as a room full of human skulls shot through by bullets. The museum walls are decorated with the names of 25,000 Mongolians executed during the purge.
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The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, built over a span of ten years between 1893 and 1903, was, as its name would suggest, the winter residence of the Bogd Khan, also known as Jebtzun Damba Hutagt VII, who was the eighth living Buddha and the last king of Mongolia. The Winter Palace was established as a museum following the Bogd Khan’s death in 1924, and miraculously withstood destruction during the Communist purges, though the Bogd Khan’s Summer Palace was destroyed. On display within the Palace are gifts received by the Bogd Khan from foreign dignitaries, including a robe made from the fur of 80 foxes and Mongolia’s official declaration of independence from China. Several examples of taxidermy are also on display, a testament to the Bogd Khan’s fascination with unusual wildlife.
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The beautiful, ornate Buddhist pagoda-style architecture of the Choijin Lama Temple Museum in downtown Ulaanbaatar sits in stark contrast to the modern, high-rise buildings that surround it. Built between 1904 and 1908, Choijin Lama was once the home of Luvsan Haidav Chiojin Lama, the brother of the Bogd Khan and Mongolia’s state oracle. Though it is no longer an active place of worship, the Choijin Lama complex features five temples within its grounds including the Maharaja Sum, which displays a number of colorful thangkas and traditional dance masks called tsamsalongside statues of Buddhist leaders and teachers. Exhibits in the gongkhang, or ‘protector chapel,’ include the Choijin Lama’s throne and a statue of yab-yiim, a Buddhist symbol representing sexual union.