“Tacit Glimpses”: A Review of Adi Da Samraj’s “Transcendental Realism” and “Aesthetic Ecstasy”

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At last year’s Venice Biennale and this year’s Winter in Florence exhibitions, Adi Da Samraj’s monumentally sized images have drawn both media praise and a rapturous public response. Art historian, art critic, and practicing artist Celia Rabinovitch assesses his recent essays on aesthetics.

Image: The Pastimes of Narcissus I, 2006 (from Spectra One)


by Celia Rabinovitch

May 12, 2008 | “The image,” writes Adi Da, describing the making of his own art, “is the response itself—ecstatic, beyond and prior to ‘point of view’, ‘object’, separateness, duality, reflection, and likeness.”  It is rare that artists have the courage to stand for a pure view of art. Yet in his two recent collections of essays on aesthetics, “Transcendental Realism” and “Aesthetic Ecstasy”, Adi Da Samraj raises the flag for an authentic spiritual experience embodied in art by calling for a “true art” that yields an immediate, sensory experience of a world of energies that transcend human perspectives and attachments. For him, the apparent multiplicity of ordinary events and images can be transformed by the creative artist into an experience of aesthetic ecstasy and inherent unity. Both manifesto and meditation, these pieces are intended to not only open our perception to a more fully present experience of art, but to allow Adi-Da’s own image-art to effect this change. Weaving intention and actuality in his writing, Adi Da’s “Transcendental Realism” and “Aesthetic Ecstasy” are challenging and rewarding reading for artists and anyone interested in art as a transformative experience.

Although his own spiritual realization unfolded spontaneously, Adi Da also makes use of his profound learning in philosophy, psychology, art, and the esoteric, psycho-physical traditions of both Asian and Western cultures. And he is aiming to do nothing less than restore transcendental purpose to post-modern culture. The text image appearing on the cover of both volumes—a triangle within a circle within a square, inscribed with the daisy-chained aphorism “Reality Itself Is Truth Itself Is The Beautiful Itself Is”—is a clear attempt to replace “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful” as the founding triad of Western high culture, while also establishing the three aforementioned shapes as the “primary geometries” (each bearing a unique esoteric meaning) upon which all art is based.


Image: The Pastimes of Narcissus II/92, 2006 (from Spectra One)

Adi Da asserts that true art has one and only aim: moving the viewer toward an ego-dissolving mystical experience of wholeness, opening us to a visual epiphany—a sensual state of immediacy and pure enjoyment. He builds his own art in many ways: initially working for some years with multiple exposures of photographs that capture, “in camera”, a multiplicity of viewpoints, he now works almost entirely with purely digital constructions. Some recent works have combined his visual strategy of multiple perspectives with mandala-like central geometry, presented on a scale so large as to encompass the viewer. Using the modernist technique of scale developed in the paintings of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the works also incorporate saturated color and an isolation of the image in a darkened space, giving the images a sense of power. Adi Da intends the contradictions within the image to inspire a vivid state of awareness that transcends causal thinking. These visual images oscillate with contemplation, echoing modern poetry’s repetition of images and use of multiple voices, undermining, as Adi Da writes, a fixed perspective.

My image-art can be characterized as paradoxical space that undermines ‘point of view’. That undermining (which occurs in any instant of fully felt participation in any of the images I make and show) allows for a tacit glimpse, or intuitive sense, of the Transcendental Condition of Reality . . . totally beyond and prior to “point of view”.

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I would just like to say that while I agree with many of your general sentiments, and even some of Adi Da’s (we are in need of more and clearer agents of paradigmatic shift), as an artist, curator, and critic (MFA, Yale, PhD), and Buddhist/Yoga/shamanic practitioner of 20 years, I find your piece naive. This work is visually and philosophically agonizingly simplistic and backward. Your analysis lacks nuance and a broader historical understanding. You can’t simply ignore the last 40 years of art that make Adi Da’s work as challenging or original as poster art at the local mall, or a Hallmark greeting card. I have first year design students producing more interesting work, with a much more believable sense of curiosity, inquiry, and promise.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/26  at  08:13 AM

I was taken with your readings of Adi Da’s images, the first three of which especially had a strong psychic impact on me—much like when I first I saw Dali’s paintings, only a lot more serene. My one complaint is that on screen they’re too small to examine in close detail.

It is interesting that Adi Da calls his aesthetic theory “transcendental realism”. That’s the same term that the screenwriter Paul Schader uses. It seems to me much better applied to Adi Da’s work than Schrader’s downer noir flicks. I’m definitely on board with you (and him, I suppose) about the spiritual function of high art. That’s the whole point.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  06:21 PM

Adi Da’s artistic sensibility can be identified as Modernist or perhaps Neo-Modernist and as such he lingers and focuses his work on a highly formal vocabulary, paring his shapes down to circles, or fractions thereof, squares and triangles.
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Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/19  at  06:33 AM





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