Yesterday we looked briefly at how MOCRA came to be. Today we continue the story with some of the surprises that come with renovating an older building, and the encouraging response to a pre-opening conference.
Several months prior to MOCRA’s official opening in February 1993, St. Louis Post-Dispatch cultural news editor Robert W. Duffy reported on the “race to finish” the gallery prior to a November 7, 1992 meeting of the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture (ARC) to be hosted in the new museum.
Construction had begun in the spring of 1992, and with the target of a completion date of early September 1992, everything seemed on track for the November 7 opening conference with plenty of time to install the art. Then, in late August, asbestos was discovered in much of the museum’s ceiling, and all construction stopped until it was removed and a new ceiling installed. To describe the abatement process as messy would be a severe understatement. By the time the project was completed the museum had a new ceiling and new drywall around its whole circumference.
Undaunted, Fr. Dempsey and the small MOCRA staff turned their energies to the ARC conference. The last of the scaffolding was removed on November 4, and the entire inaugural exhibition (which was to be previewed at the conference) had to be installed in two days. On top of that, there was an overlap between the installation completion and the arrival of the artists, speakers, and guests for the conference. Adrenaline and frayed nerves were in evidence—but it happened, and the museum was ready for the conference.
The program, titled The Artist and Sacred Space, featured lectures and reflections from a number of distinguished speakers (titles and institutions are given as at the time of the conference):
|Dr. Jane Daggett Dillenberger||(Professor of Art History, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA)|
|Dr. John Renard||(Professor of Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO)|
|Rev. Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.||(Founding Director of MOCRA and Assistant Professor of Art History, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO)|
|Doug Adams||(Professor of Art History, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA)|
|David Miller||(Watson-Ledden Professor of Religion, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY)|
|Rev. Maurice B. McNamee, S.J.||(Professor Emeritus and Founding Director of Samuel Cupples House, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO)|
These presentations were followed by a panel of 12 artists participating in MOCRA’s inaugural exhibition:
|Seyed Alavi (Oakland, CA)||Charlotte Lichtblau (New York, NY)|
|Lita Albuquerque (Los Angeles, CA)||Stephen Luecking (Chicago, IL)|
|Craig Antrim (Los Angeles, CA)||Bernard Maisner (New York, NY)|
|Frederick J. Brown (New York, NY)||James Rosen (Augusta, GA)|
|Eleanor Dickinson (San Francisco, CA)||Thomas Skomski (Chicago, IL)|
|Tobi Kahn (New York, NY)||Daniel Ramirez (Madison, WI)|
The artists and the audience engaged in an animated conversation on why many of today’s artists were addressing the religious and spiritual dimensions in their work.
The conference and its discussions reflected the excitement among the participants about the imminent launching of MOCRA. Artist Eleanor Dickinson remarked, “Art of the spirit and the soul is not very saleable. This museum is something we’ve needed for a long time to counter the excessive commercialization of art.” Over 120 people from across the country—St. Louis, New York, Washington, Chicago, Syracuse, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston—attended the conference, including about 30 members of ARC.
After the excitement of the conference had subsided, it was now time to attend to the final preparations for MOCRA’s grand opening.
–David Brinker, Assistant Director