All works of art are carriers of story. Even if we find a particular work reticent or obscure, the circumstances surrounding an object and its creation can be a source of compelling narratives. Think of the clashes between Michelangelo and his patron Pope Julian II over the painting of the Sistine Chapel, or of Michelangelo’s Pietà, which suffered a brutal attack by a man named Laszlo Toth in 1972 (see footage of the attach and subsequent restoration here).*
The Adrian Kellard exhibition at MOCRA has occasioned the sharing of many stories-behind-the-art. Many of his works have practical utility, such as a St. Francis screen created for his roommate Regina DeLuise to give her a bit of privacy in their shared apartment.
Recently a new paragraph was added to the story of Kellard’s major work, Healing … The Learned Art of Compassion. The central portion of the work includes a canopy faced with a large portrait of Jesus, standing over an altar-like bench and framing a beautifully rendered sorrowing Mary on the wall. Flanking this configuration are, to the right, a crucifixion and, to the left, an unusual winged figure with a poignant portrait of Mary and an enclosed self-portrait of the artist.
The border around the central Mary portrait is inscribed with the days of the week, hovering over choppy waves and demarcated by lighthouses. We knew that there had originally been a marker with a sail boat on it that was used to “sail” from day to day, safe harbor to safe harbor. However, it was not among the many components of the work that had arrived at MOCRA for safekeeping several years ago. (See this previous post about the assembling of this work.)
While Regina DeLuise was here in St. Louis for the opening of the exhibition in September, she mentioned to us that she thought she might have the missing boat marker. Sure enough, within a couple of weeks, the boat arrived–not by water, but by air and land. But it was not yet seaworthy, because the dowels used to affix it to the panel had been snapped off. With some trial-and-error, and more importantly some expert assistance from Bryce Allen of our Saint Louis University Theatre shop, we were able to restore the marker. Now ship-shape, it has returned to active service. (We are also grateful to Bryce and his colleague, lighting designer Mark Wilson, as well as some able student assistants, for helping us engineer the lighting for this work.)
You can hear more stories about Adrian Kellard and his art in an episode of the MOCRA Voices podcast featuring an interview with Regina DeLusie and gallery dealer Susan Schreiber. Listen to the podcast, and explore a Listening Guide, here.
— David Brinker, Assistant Director
* The attack on the Pietà has an unexpected St. Louis connection: Toth was wrestled away from the statue by Bob Cassilly, who went on to become a noted sculptor in his own right, as well as the creative genius behind the one-of-a-kind City Museum. Cassilly died on September 26, 2011, in a bulldozer accident on the site of a project-in-progress called Cementland.