Location
200 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415.581.3500
Exhibition

A Guided Tour of Hell

Apr 20, 2018 – Sep 16, 2018
Tateuchi Gallery
A guided tour of one man’s harrowing descent into the Tibetan Buddhist realms of hell encourages us to contemplate the meaning of life and the consequences of negative action.

After collapsing in the hospital following heart surgery, longtime Buddhist teacher Sam Bercholz felt himself being pulled violently down into a realm beyond life, where he witnessed dramatic suffering. Bercholz recounted the nightmarish imagery and intense sensations of this near-death experience to Tibetan American artist Pema Namdol Thaye. The artist drew on his training in traditional Tibetan arts as well as his childhood obsession with graphic novels to translate these descriptions into a series of vibrant acrylic paintings; more than 20 of these works are on view in this exhibition. 

Thaye’s paintings forcefully depict the karmic suffering of hell-beings in fantastical landscapes, both fiery and crystalline. These characters — among them a suicide bomber, a murderous warlord, a self-absorbed socialite, a scientist who invents a doomsday bomb — each represent a negative habit of mind: envy, hate, greed, disdain, materialism.
 
The artworks encourage us to contemplate suffering in order to inspire us toward greater good in life. To this end, the final painting in the series, Samsara, reminds us that hell is only one of six possible destinations on the karmic wheel of life. 

Top image: Gates of Hell (detail), 2015, by Pema Namdol Thaye (Tibetan, b. 1967). Acrylic on canvas. Lent by the artist. © Pema Namdol Thaye.

Organizers & Sponsors

A Guided Tour of Hell is organized by the Asian Art Museum. Presentation is made possible with the generous support of Peter and Beverly Sinton and The Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation. This exhibition is a part of the Asian American Experience, which is made possible with the generous support of Glen S. and Sakie T. Fukushima and in honor of Ambassador and Mrs. Sampson Shen.