The Rubin is transforming. Read important updates from our Executive Director.

Did you know that January 4th is National Trivia Day? In honor of the occasion, we’ve assembled five fun facts about the Museum for all you trivia lovers out there!

1) Did you know that before it was the Rubin Museum, our building housed the original Barneys New York department store?

Twenty years ago, our 70,000-square-foot location in the Chelsea neighborhood once housed Barneys New York. Museum co-founder Donald Rubin was driving across 17th street one day when he saw a for sale sign in the window. He immediately explored the site and as he walked down the spiraling staircase, he decided that the building was ideal for housing his art collection. Soon, an extensive renovation process was carried out. Much of the building’s original structure and character were retained in the process, most notably the iconic Andree Putman’s steel-and-marble staircase that spirals dramatically through the gallery floors.

Photo credit: Michael Pana
Photo credit: Michael Pana

2) Did you know that our entrance is shaped like a Mandala?

Copyright © Imrey Culbert LP
Copyright © Imrey Culbert LP

During the building’s renovation, the most significant new design element involved the entrance. Enlarging what was the one-story entrance of Barneys and making it into a three-story Mandala-shaped element for the Museum was no small task. Our architects and designers knew the importance of a museum’s facade, so they gave the Rubin a triple-height stepping void that foreshadows the space and art within. The architecture of the facade is meant to represent a gateway to Himalayan art.

Original Building Facade
Original Building Facade

3) Did you know that the number of steps on our spiral staircase represent a sacred number in Buddhism?

Many temples have 108 steps, and so does our spiral staircase! The number 108 is centrally important and considered sacred in Buddhism. In Tibetan-Buddhism, malas usually have 108 beads, a reflection of the words of the Buddha called in Tibetan Kangyur in 108 volumes. Likewise, in Zen-Buddhism, priests wear a ring of prayer beads called juzu consisting of 108 beads. The number is also connected to yoga and other dharma-based practices.

In some schools of Buddhism, it is believed that there are 108 feelings. In a Pali text translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, this number is reached by multiplying the six senses (smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight and consciousness) by two kinds of locations (internally generated or externally occurring), three kinds of sensations (pain, pleasure or neutral), and again by three (for past, present and future). Hopefully, as visitors climb up the spiral stairs, they can go through a sacred experience of feeling 108 emotions all at once.

4) Did you know that the number of floors we have reflects the number of realms in the Buddhist Wheel of Life, Samsara?

In Buddhism, six is also a sacred number. In the Wheel of Life, or Samsara, there are six spheres of existence that all beings are trapped in. The six realms include: the realm of heavenly beings, the realm of Asura, the realm of hungry ghosts, the realm of hell, the animal realm, and the human realm. At the Rubin, our art works spread over six floors of galleries, each floor having its own theme.

5) Did you know about the story behind our visual identity?

Whether its genres of art, music or film, the Rubin Museum of Art is all about traversing boundaries. We seek to explore big questions through art that traverses Asia’s distinct cultures, regions, and narratives. To this end, we launched a redesign of our logo in 2014 that aims to reflect who we are, what we do, and the message that we want to convey to visitors. Like the converging points on the logo, the Museum aims to be a place where ideas, art and personal experiences interact and interconnect, creating an original, collective experience.

Learn more fun facts by taking a tour of the Museum! Tours run twice a day and are included with admission.