One of the best-kept secrets about Mongolia is how important art is to Mongol culture. It reminds me of what I’ve heard about Bali, where it seems that everyone does something creative. I’ve found that as soon as someone in Mongolia finds out that I’m an artist, I come into focus and more or less jump to the head of the cultural line.
Artistic expression in Mongolia ranges far and wide, from traditional painting and sculpture to singing, music, dance, calligraphy, leatherwork, feltwork, embroidery and more.
Mongol painters have been able, for the past seventy or so years, to travel to art schools in Eastern Europe, including Russia, where they have learned classical academic methods at a time when that instruction was impossible to find in the United States. The results can be seen today, especially in the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery. which is really a museum with a permanent collection.
There is also a national organization, the Arts Council of Mongolia, which runs a variety of programs to support young and emerging artists. I spent an hour with the director of the Council this past trip and came away very impressed by the quality of the programs and the staff.
There are also at least a couple of artist-run organizations. One of them, the Union of Mongolian Artists, has excellent light-filled exhibition space in a building just south of Sukhbaatar Square. I go there every time I’m in UB and the current offering is always interesting and of good quality.
Some of the artists have their own websites. Here’s one from an incredible Mongol calligrapher, Sukhbaatar, who I have gotten to know on Facebook. He and his fellow calligraphic artists use the ancient Mongol vertical script which Chinggis Khan got from the Uigher people since the Mongols had no writing at the time he established the empire. The script also exists in type fonts and is taught in the schools.
There are also a few commercial art galleries where you can see a very wide range of contemporary Mongolian painting, sculpture and other media. I’ve been to the Valiant Art Gallery a number of times. It has two locations: one in the same building as the famous expat restaurant, Millie’s, which is right across the street from the Museum of the Chojin Lama and the second near the State Department Store. Last, but certainly not least, is the Tsagaandarium Art Gallery and Museum, which is located on a corner in Zaisan, across the river from the main part of Ulaanbaatar. They not only have great art, but offer all kinds of community events and art classes.