Mongolia Monday- I Meet Mongol Artists (At Last!)

I’ve known since my first trips to Mongolia that art is an extremely important part of the culture, but had not found a way to meet or connect with any of the artists themselves. Until now.

Thanks to Janna, the Director of ArtiCour Gallery, who hosted my Ulaabaatar art event on September 22, I got my wish and then some. The gallery represents some of Mongolia’s most prominent and honored painters. Some of them were kind enough to come to the event and two invited me to visit their studios, which I did the next day. I had a wonderful time, thanks to Janna and Khaliunaa, who was one of my interpreters for the art event (along with Buyandelger) and who was nice enough to come along so that I could talk to the artists.

Although they did not have access to the West during what the Mongols call “socialist times”, many Mongolian artists traveled to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Eastern Bloc countries to study in a variety of art academies and schools, so they were trained in classical, academic methods. They were limited in what was acceptable to paint, Impressionism apparently being totally off-limits, but still found ways to express themselves with great originality. With the coming of democracy in 1991, the artists of Mongolia became free to go wherever their artistic vision leads them.

The following is a “album” of my visit to the studios of six artists, all members of the Union of Mongolian Artists, which was founded in 1944 and has its own large, airy gallery space in the heart of Ulaanbaatar. I’ve been going there every trip since 2006 to see their exhibitions.

The studio photos and some of the art images were taken with my iPhone. Some of the other painting images I scanned from materials like brochures and booklets that the artists gave to me as gifts. I hope you enjoy this “studio tour” and you can be sure that there will be more to come in the future.

The artists are presented in the order in which I met them.

E. Sukhee, who I was told is one of the most eminent artists in Mongolia
Uulen Choloonii Nar by E. Sukhee
G. Dunburee; he was definitely the extrovert of the group
Dunburee’s famous painting “Ikh Khuree”, a scene of Ulaanbaatar in the 1920s, one of a series
Some of Dunburee’s location paintings
Fellow artist, Sosobaram, who stopped in for a short time, Dunburee and I
Sosobaram gave me a lovely booklet of his life and work. I scanned this and the following two images from it. Here is one of his drawings, I think from when he was a student.
Tsagaan Sarnai by B. Sosorbaram
Avto Portret 2006 (Self Portrait 2006) by B. Sosorbaram
S. Bayarbaatar
Talin Unselt by Bayarbaatar
Natsagdorj- one of the very few watercolor artists of his generation
Ikh Taigin Namar by Natsagdorj; he is from the northern part of Mongolia and at one time specialized in images of the Tsaatsan or “Reindeer People”.
Tugs-Oyun Sodnom
Ger District 2009 by Tugs-Oyun
Landscape in progress- Munkh
Landscape in progress- detail
Finally, Tugs-Oyun, me and Janna Kamimila, the Director of ArtiCour Gallery, who arranged this memorable afternoon with the artists, who couldn’t have been more welcoming

Mongolia Monday: 6 Great Mongolian Art Sites

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.

One of the gallery areas in the Modern Art Gallery, with a large shaman's drum

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.

Horses Hooves by P. Tsegmid, Modern Art Gallery; a personal favorite

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.

Political commentary from an artist who was part of a group show at the Union of Mongolian Artists' gallery last year

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.

Mongol calligraphy by Sukhbaatar Lkhagvadorj

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.

Tsagaandarium Art Gallery and Museum

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.