Exploring art in ulan bator

13:46, June 26, 2011      

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The Monastery-Museum of Choijin Lama is a storehouse of jaw-dropping papier, mache masks and elegant bronze sculptures. (Sources: China Daily/Chitralekha Basu )

At the heart of Ulan Bator is an art-lover's paradise waiting to be discovered. Chitralekha Basu looks beyond the usual tourist draws and finds a trove of art and culture around the city's central square.

If you stood in front of Sukhbaatar Batbold's now cellophane-wrapped statue in Ulan Bator's central square and drew a circle with a 1-kilometer radius, you would be at the hub of a never-ending exhibition.

Granted, most of Ulan Bator's potential tourist lures - from the Roman-style colonnaded buildings often colored an unlikely shade of dark peach to the multi-tiered pagoda-roofed monasteries - are located right here, but the volume and variety of art on display is truly extraordinary.

The best part of visiting UB's arts hub is that the intense concentration of thangka paintings, appliqu panels showing menacing mythological gods, bejeweled bronze sculptures, quaint hunting tools and masks and costumes worn traditionally by tsam dancers seems inversely proportional to the number of eager connoisseurs.

Miles and miles of art objects stand solemnly in unpeopled galleries. Even the staff, supposed to be looking out for the chance visitor, is hardly ever seen. But don't let that give you ideas. A warren of closed circuit cameras is tracking your moves, just in case you thought of clicking a shot or two on the sly and not paying the fee (see box).

First up on the list is Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, by far the most representative collection of Mongolian art, from prehistoric granite sculptures to early 20th-century landscapes by the legendary Mongolian painter B Sharav (1869-1939).

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