What is ephemeral? What is lasting?

During a visit to Jordan Eagles’ studio last May, the idea for the exhibition VIRAL\VALUE began to take shape. Jordan pulled out a box of posters to show me, suggesting the poster could be made available as a giveaway for visitors to the exhibition. The poster, featuring a very specific selfie on one side and an achingly passionate poem on the other, was a collaboration between Jordan and Ted Kerr, a Brooklyn-based artist, author, and organizer with What Would an HIV Doula Do?

Jordan Eagles in collaboration with What Would an HIV Doula Do?, “Vinci (Donor Portrait),” 2020.
Jordan Eagles in collaboration with What Would an HIV Doula Do?, Vinci (Donor Portrait) (obverse), 2020. Digital photo, text by Bryn Kelly. 24 x 18 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Jordan Eagles in collaboration with What Would an HIV Doula Do?, “Vinci (Donor Portrait),” 2020.
Jordan Eagles in collaboration with What Would an HIV Doula Do?, Vinci (Donor Portrait) (reverse), 2020. Digital photo, text by Bryn Kelly. 24 x 18 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The poster indeed became part of the exhibition, which draws its title from a pair of questions posed on the poster: “What Is Viral? What Is Value?” Visitors to MOCRA encounter a tray of the posters ensconced in a side chapel gallery, bathed in the projected image of Eagles’ Vinci (Illuminations). Many visitors leave with a poster—and sometimes two, saying that they can’t decide which side of the poster they want to display.

Installation view, Jordan Eagles: VIRALVALUE, at MOCRA, 2022
A dramatic nighttime installation view of Jordan Eagles: VIRAL\VALUE at MOCRA in 2022, featuring Vinci (Illuminations) and Vinci (Donor Portrait).
Installation view, Jordan Eagles: VIRAL\VALUE
Installation view of Jordan Eagles: VIRAL\VALUE at MOCRA in 2022, featuring Vinci (Donor Portrait) and Vinci (Illuminations).

I was curious to know more about how the poster collaboration came about, so I asked Jordan and Ted to share with us the story. — David Brinker, MOCRA Director

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re passionate about.


I am a 43-year-old white gay guy who was raised in Edmonton, Alberta, but currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. I teach, write, and organize. Sometimes I make art, and curate. I am passionate about people being decent to each other, themselves, and the world. Beyond that, I care a lot about HIV, public health, community and culture.


I’m a native New Yorker, gay, artist. I live in the Lower East Side and work in Ridgewood, Queens. I’m interested in creating new series that revolve around spirituality and materiality and projects that have a focus on ending discriminatory blood donation policies and stigma against the LGBTQ+ community.

How did you first connect with each other?


In 2013, a dear friend and curator I had worked with, Edwin Ramoran, introduced me to Ted, who at the time was at Visual AIDS. I had recently begun investigating the blood ban against the LGBTQ+ community and its connection to HIV/AIDS. Edwin thought Ted would be a great person to have a conversation with and that he would have interesting ideas, and arranged for us all to get together. Ted was—and still is—super committed to ending HIV stigma and had some extremely hardline positions that really got to me with his sensitivity to the overall subject and that pushed me to think deeper about the issues.


Yes! That is how I remember the first meeting as well. We met up, looked at some work, and Edwin watched us as we debated, discussed, and ultimately left with a deeper sense of each other’s commitments. What I liked about our first meeting and our working relationship ever since is our commitment to real conversation. Sometimes it gets heated, and it is always respectful.

Jordan Eagles, “Vinci (Illuminations)” (detail)
Jordan Eagles, Vinci (Illuminations) (detail), 2018. Grayscale image of Salvator Mundi printed on plexiglass, blood of an HIV+ undetectable long-term survivor and activist, and UV resin, with overhead projector. Dimensions variable. Installed at MOCRA, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

What inspired this collaboration?


In 2018, I began working on the chapter utilizing the Salvator Mundi and blood donated from an individual who is HIV+ undetectable, a long-term survivor and activist. Ted meanwhile had gone to Union Theological Seminary. After years of thinking about HIV through the lens of art, he wanted to think about the crisis through religion and spirituality. A few years later, the SPRING/BREAK Art Show had “Excess” for their 2020 curatorial theme. Given the astronomical amount that was spent on this supposed Leonardo da Vinci painting—depicting Jesus as “Saviour of the World”—I thought the project would be appropriate for the theme, and given Ted’s commitment to HIV/AIDS and seminary education, he would be a great partner.

We started talking and Ted asked if the collective he co-founded, What Would an HIV Doula Do?, could be included. I thought this was a great idea. Among the collective’s activities, they produce timelines, zines, and an assortment of online and printed materials, often in collaboration with artists. So it was natural that we produced something for the exhibition that would be a collaboration with the collective. Vinci (Donor Portrait) is the result and was offered a complimentary takeaway for visitors.


I want to add that had we not already had a foundation of trust and conversation this project would not have been possible. So what inspired this collaboration was also years of talking, knowing what the other person was into, and a willingness to dive into some sensitive topics like health, wealth, art world politics, stigma, and probably a lot more I am not thinking about right now.

How did you decide to make a poster, and how did you decide on each of the elements?


I am not sure how we landed on the poster format as the way forward, but I can tell you, a history of HIV can be told in the ephemera that has been created in response to the crisis, including stickers, zines, postcards and yes, posters. From Silence = Death to State-provided public health messages, posters have been a site for activism, public education, and general awareness. They are used around the world, and have been used from the early to the present days. I curated an exhibition of AIDS posters for the National Library of Medicine, and I worked with Chaplain Chris Jones to make a Litany for Burning Condoms, an AIDS poster.

In terms of the poster we made, together, it has a few elements. Jordan should tell you about the front, and I will talk about the back. The border on the back is a definition of U = U, undetectable equals untransmittable. It is a slogan that has been popularized for the last ten years by people living with HIV to highlight the fact that if someone is on the treatment plan that works for them, their viral count is so low that it is undetectable and this means that the virus can not be transmitted sexually.

Within this border is a poem by my friend, the writer Bryn Kelly. She wrote an advice column called The Hussy. And in response to a question from someone who was tired of taking their HIV meds, she advised staying on the pills and wrote a poem positioning people living with HIV as part of a select group of people with specific—and special—blood. “Tiger Blood” refers to Charlie Sheen, but I think the poem works even if you don’t know that.

Ed. note: I’ve had the opportunity to participate in two different gatherings where Ted led those present in a recitation of Bryn Kelly’s poem. It’s a galvanizing experience. —DB


The front of the poster is a photograph taken by the blood donor in the reflection of the painting, Vinci, in which his blood preserved. If you look closely, you can see the blood donor’s hands holding his camera phone, which obscures his face and identity.

Jordan Eagles, “Vinci (Donor Portrait)” (detail), 2020.
Jordan Eagles in collaboration with What Would an HIV Doula Do?, Vinci (Donor Portrait) (detail), 2020. Digital photo, text by Bryn Kelly. 24 x 18 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Where has the poster been seen, and what sort of impact has it had?


The poster debuted at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show in NYC in February 2020. As you can imagine from the date, it was intense to be showing this work at the dawn of COVID-19. Jordan’s artwork became a catalyst for people to consider the connections between the coronavirus and HIV. The conversations we had with folks as a result were emotional, and informative. I ended up writing about it for POZ.

A few months later, we brought the posters to the NYC’s Lower East Side for an amazing outdoor event that artist and activist Emily Johnson does at Abrons Arts Center called Kinstillatory Mappings in Light and Dark Matter. It is a ceremonial fire around which everyone is invited to gather. For this event we partnered with the New York City AIDS Memorial. I had just worked with them to create an audio installation that Dave Harper came up with called HERE ME: Voices of the Epidemic. that serves as a sound collage about HIV in NYC. Around the fire, we listened to the project and as part of the event we spoke about Jordan’s work and handed out posters.


I am very much looking forward to VIRAL\VALUE traveling to Washington, D.C., in March 2023, and being part of conversations with another spiritual community, but also in city where policies are discussed and often formed.

Jordan Eagles, “Vinci (Illuminations)” (detail)
Jordan Eagles, Vinci (Illuminations) (detail), 2018. Grayscale image of Salvator Mundi printed on plexiglass, blood of an HIV+ undetectable long-term survivor and activist, and UV resin, with overhead projector. Dimensions variable. Installed at MOCRA, 2022. Courtesy of the artist.

The Changing Face of Day With(out) Art

Visitors to MOCRA sometimes note that a significant number of works in the collection relate in some way to HIV and AIDS. Indeed, such works form a foundational stratum of the museum collection, due in large measure to MOCRA’s acclaimed 1994 exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS. A number of the works in that exhibition entered the nascent MOCRA collection.

Consecrations greatly expanded people’s understanding of what a museum focusing on the religious and spiritual dimensions in contemporary art was capable of. MOCRA Founding Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., holds the conviction that art has a deep capacity for touching the human spirit. Art also “has a voice and a power,” he says, “to draw attention and call for a response.” By bringing together in Consecrations work about HIV and AIDS by artists living a range of gender, sexual, racial, cultural, and socio-economic realities, Fr. Dempsey sought to create an environment where people could face AIDS square on, as he had done personally through the loss of close friends to AIDS-related causes.

Consecrations stimulated a number of public programs, including a talk by the late Tom Sokolowski on “The Changing Face of AIDS,” which provided an overview of the ways artists responding to the pandemic in its first decade. (You can listen to the talk here.) Sokolowski was a co-founder of Visual AIDS, an organization that “utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists, and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.” In 1989, motivated by the overwhelming impact of HIV and AIDS on the creative community, Visual AIDS launched the first Day Without Art, a national day of action and mourning held annually on World AIDS Day, December 1. Renamed Day With(out) Art in 1998, the event continues to be observed by galleries and museums, evolving just as the experience of HIV and AIDS has evolved. 

MOCRA is housed in a former chapel, and Fr. Dempsey wanted it to continue to function as a site to gather community, a space where grief could be expressed, but also a place of solidarity, healing and hope. Fr. Dempsey collaborated with others in the St. Louis arts community to host a Day Without Art gathering at MOCRA on December 1, 1994, with a roster including a variety of members of the St. Louis community, including musicians, dancers, poets, and activists.

Some thirty years later, the landscape of HIV and AIDS has changed in many significant ways. MOCRA’s current exhibition, Jordan Eagles: VIRAL\VALUE, engages with this present reality, where a cure remains elusive, but more effective, less toxic treatments are available, as well as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that drastically reduces the risk of contracting HIV. Yet stigma and inequities in access to treatment and support services persist. Looking back to Consecrations and in the midst of VIRAL\VALUE, I reached out to two people who played key roles in realizing Day Without Art in St. Louis during the 1990s and early 2000s. Roseann Weiss and Daniel Reich were gracious about sharing their recollections.

Day Without Art in St. Louis: The 1990s

Weiss was an art dealer in the mid-1980s when she and three colleagues realized that AIDS service organizations (ASOs) like Doorways and St. Louis Effort for AIDS (now Vivent) were having a hard time getting funding from traditional sources. In 1986 they organized a coalition of artists and art organizations under the name REACT, to put on a fundraising art auction. The event proved so successful that Weiss and her colleagues formed the AIDS Foundation of St. Louis as a fundraising organization that could channel money to local ASOs. The AIDS Foundation held various events annually, including an annual AIDS Walk. (I participated in the AIDS Walk—and still have some of the T-shirts to prove it.)

Weiss went on to work at the Forum for Contemporary Art, the precursor to today’s Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. In its second location near Strauss Park in Grand Center, the Forum occupied the first and third floors, while the Regional Arts Commission occupied the second floor. When Weiss and her Forum colleague Betsy Millard sought to encourage the St. Louis arts community to take part in Day Without Art, they received helpful financial and promotional support from their neighbors at RAC. Weiss says she was “floored by the response—so many folks wanted to do something.” She recalls that members of the arts community would do some sort of observance at their own organizations, then participate in something that brought the whole community together.

One of those folks was Dan Reich, who came to St. Louis in 1986 to take a position at the Saint Louis Art Museum as Head of Adult Programs in the Education Department. Reich recalls that the museum “recognized Day Without Art from its inception. It was organized through the Education Department, rather than through curators, so it was usually programmatic, rather than exhibition based. The museum  wouldn’t approve the removal of art from the walls, but we did screen appropriate films, which attracted large audiences.”

1994 flyer for Day Without Art films at the Saint Louis Art Museum
The program from the Saint Louis Art Museum’s 1994 Day Without Art observance. You could have attended the program at MOCRA, then hoofed it over to Forest Park to see the films.

In the early 1990, Reich recalls, “Day Without Art was commemorated [at the Art Museum] by the display of a recently acquired painting by artist John-Paul Wolf, who died in 1990. This was arranged by Betsy Wright Millard, Curator of Prints and Drawings.” (Millard left the Saint Louis Art Museum to become Director of the Forum for Contemporary Art.) As it happens, the poster produced for MOCRA’s 1994 Day Without Art gathering features three photographs by St. Louis artist John Hilgert dedicated to John Paul Wolf.

The poster for the 1994 Day Without Art gathering held at MOCRA
The poster for the 1994 Day Without Art gathering held at MOCRA

Day With(out) Art observances continued throughout the 1990s. Reich took a position at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in 1999, where Day With(out) Art was marked “either programmatically or with small installations.” Reich shares that, “For several years, I exhibited a work of art entitled Infinite Numbers, created by my friend, artist Duane Puryear, who died in 1991. He combined the frequently used symbol of shoes—to refer to the AIDS epidemic, as well as the persecution of gay men during the Holocaust. One survivor who was especially moved was Rachel MIller, who survived the Holocaust as a ‘hidden child,’ and refers to AIDS as her ‘second Holocaust’ because of her son’s death from the disease.”

Duane Puryear, Infinite Numbers
Duane Puryear, Infinite Numbers

Reich notes that Duane Puryear’s panel in the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is the most requested panel for display.

Artist Duane Puryear holds his own panel from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Day With(out) Art in St. Louis: Since 2000

MOCRA was the site of a Day With(out) Art gathering in 2000, held in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition of work by Robert Farber. Weiss was again a gathering force, helping bring together David Halen, the concert master of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Donna Parrone and Marty Stanberry of HotHouse Theater Company, and the Ambassadors of the Gateway Men’s Chorus. Fr. Dempsey invited Flo Lawshe and Sharon Paige, two staff members from the Jesuit Hall community where he resided, to share their vocal talents.

The program for Day With(out) Art at MOCRA in 2000
The program for Day With(out) Art at MOCRA in 2000

On December 1, 2006, MOCRA paused its exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, corralling the pillows and setting up a continuous projection of the images from Carolyn Jones’ Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS project, several of which had been displayed in the Consecrations exhibition in 1994.

A film about the Living Proof project.

The observance of Day With(out) Art has shifted along with the contours of HIV and AIDS and related activism. In recent years, Visual AIDS has produced a variety of short films that are screened at gallery and museum venues across the country (including in at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis). 

What do we carry forward?

I asked Weiss and Reich what they learned from their early experiences with Day Without Art that think our community could benefit from today.

Reich reflects, “I think people reacted strongly to Day Without Art in the late 1980s and 1990s, because they wanted a way to show their concern for those suffering from this disease which had no cure or effective treatment at that time. If you weren’t willing to march or join ACT UP, attending a program at a cultural institution was something people felt comfortable with. Also, at that time, before effective treatment, members of the arts and cultural communities were disproportionately affected. While advanced treatments have largely controlled HIV and AIDS, it hasn’t gone away, and now it disproportionately affects marginalized populations. Day With(out) Art continues to be an important education tool to raise awareness of this ongoing crisis.”

Weiss is still awed by the power of artists and the arts. “One of the reasons I work in community-based art is my experience with art and activism on the front lines of AIDS. You couldn’t ignore AIDS, because artists wouldn’t let us ignore it.” Weiss highlights the ways collective action can help us overcome the powerlessness we might feel as individuals; when we invite people to take part in something bigger than any one person, they just might say yes! Artists can draw in even reluctant partners. Weiss recalls how Dr. Anthony Fauci eulogized playwright and activist Larry Kramer upon his passing in 2020. Fauci wryly noted that Kramer “had a unique capacity, when there were opposing arguments, to alienate everybody on both sides of the issue,” and Kramer spared no quarter in criticizing Fauci. Yet Fauci took a chance: “So I reached out — and over the years we went from acquaintances who were adversarial to acquaintances who were less adversarial to friends to very, very dear friends.”

Weiss admits to being puzzled and dismayed by our collective response to the massive losses of life from COVID and from gun violence. “What’s wrong with us?” she wonders. “How have we become so inured?” But then she recalls that AIDS activists, and artists in particular, didn’t give up. That may not be revelatory, says Weiss, but it’s something that needs to be remembered. Indeed, organizations such as Visual AIDS and What Would an HIV Doula Do? continue to harness the power of art in organizing to fight stigma, advocate for better policies and access to resources, and highlight the creativity and dignity of the diverse population of people living with HIV and AIDS.

— David Brinker, Director

Remembering Thomas Sokolowski

Thomas Sokolowski

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Thomas Sokolowski on May 4, 2020. Tom was an important presence in the American art world:  Curator and then Director at the Chrysler Museum of Art In Norfolk, Virginia in the early 1980s; Director of the Grey Art Gallery and Study Center at New York University, 1984–1996; Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, 1996–2010; and Director of the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University from 2017 until his untimely death. Where many museum directors are guarded and reserved, Tom took chances and was exceptionally generous in helping others who were just cutting their teeth in the museum world. I am one of the people who experienced Tom’s warm support.

Our paths intersected several times over the years. Each time, my life was enriched and I was redirected on an exciting new trajectory. In the 1980s, I was undertaking doctoral studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. I was researching the emerging phenomenon of contemporary American artists addressing the spiritual and religious dimensions in their art. My former student, sculptor Michael MacLeod, introduced me to Tom in 1985. Michael knew that Tom also had an interest in this topic, expressed in his group exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery, Precious: An American Cottage Industry of the Eighties.

In the summer of 1985, Tom generously opened the door for me to meet some of the artists in the show whose explorations of the spiritual and religious dimensions were not satirical or ironic. He literally opened his door to me—he was under the weather and invited me to come to his apartment near Washington Square. He was gracious and witty, and gave me contact information for ten New York artists who he thought would be good candidates for my dissertation research. By the time my research was completed, I had located over 100 artists across the country who were addressing the religious and spiritual dimensions in their art, but it was Tom who opened that all-important first door.

I completed my dissertation in 1990 and joined the art history faculty at Saint Louis University that fall. Within two years, I had secured support from the University to transform a former Jesuit chapel into MOCRA, the world’s first museum of contemporary art addressing the religious and spiritual dimensions. When MOCRA opened in February 1993, the inaugural exhibition, Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art, included a number of the artists Tom had referred me to.

In addition to his recommendations for Sanctuaries, Tom played an important role in two key exhibitions that brought MOCRA national attention and had a deep effect on audiences. In 1994, I curated the group exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS, bringing together work by twenty-eight artists representing the broad spectrum of the visual arts community. I turned to Tom, one of the four founders of Visual AIDS, for advice, and again he provided invaluable recommendations. He also graciously came to MOCRA to deliver a well-attended lecture on “The Changing Face of AIDS.”

From left: Tom Sokolowski, Patrick O’Connell, and Jimmy Morrow wear Visual AIDS’ Day Without Art t-shirts featuring artwork by Barbara Kruger, 1994. Source: Visual AIDS.

Tom also played an indispensable role in MOCRA’s most popular exhibition to date, Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds. I attended an event at the Andy Warhol Museum in the late 1990s and experienced in person the Silver Clouds, large, pillow-shaped silver mylar balloons that drift through the gallery. I was enchanted. I approached Tom, who by then was Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, to ask if we might display the Clouds in MOCRA. He was dubious, concerned that MOCRA’s large nave gallery space would be too big. I assured him that we could make it work. He put his trust in me, and he made all the arrangements to make the exhibition possible at MOCRA.

Living St. Louis visited the Silver Clouds at MOCRA.

At that time (in 2001), it was the largest installation of the Silver Clouds anywhere, and it proved so appealing to visitors that we presented it again in 2002 and 2006. Anecdotes of this exhibition are numerous, but my favorite memory is something an older man said to me as we watched his 5-year-old grandson reveling in the Clouds: “Look at my grandson. Look at his smile. This is his first experience of an art museum, and it will be a joyous memory that he will take with him the rest of his life. Thank you for bringing this exhibition here.”  And I thank Tom for making that memory and many others possible. 

I shall miss this fine man. He was sassy and irreverent, a person of great imagination, and a generous colleague. He had vision that enabled him to see the possible, however improbable. I retired from Saint Louis University and from MOCRA last June. Tom sent a note of congratulations, characteristically witty but heartfelt. I quote part of his message here, by way of offering his sentiments back to him:

Who would have thought that after our first meeting in the Summer of 1985 we would become colleagues and friends for lo over some thirty-four years! Rarely does one have the pleasure of intellectual maturation of like minds while, concomitantly, physical decrepitude sets in for both of us. Oh, for when we were both young and beautiful. As the ancient Greeks would have put it to be kalos kagathos (to be handsome and well-thought of). The imagination and zeal that you have put into various projects throughout the years have been amazing. . . . You proved again and again, spirituality and modern art were not binaries. . . . Remember, we first met over my eighties show Precious, and you are definitively one precious man. I am so proud and thankful that you are my friend.

Tom Sokolowski made a profound difference in my life and, by extension, in the lives of thousands of visitors to MOCRA since 1993. Thank you, dear friend. You broadened my life and my imagination in being able to see what is possible.

Terrence Dempsey, S.J.
Founding Director Emeritus, MOCRA

Learn more:

Remembering Ed Boccia

St. Louis recently lost one of its artistic greats.

Edward Boccia, painter, poet, and teacher, died on September 3, 2012, at the age of 91. An exceptionally prolific artist, he noted, “For as long as I can remember, drawing and painting have been as natural to me as breathing. I can’t conceive of not producing artistic work.”

Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1921, Boccia studied at the Art Students League of New York, Pratt Institute, and Columbia University. His time at Pratt was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Army from 1942 to 1945. But even war didn’t stem his creative output. He received art supplies from his mother back home, painted from foxholes and cafes, and sent the work to his mother. Upon his return Boccia married fellow Pratt student Madeleine Wysong. He joined the faculty of Washington University in 1951 and was named professor of art in 1966; he became professor emeritus twenty years later.

Boccia’s work is found in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the National Pinakothek in Athens, and more than 600 private collections.

Ed and Madeleine Boccia.
Ed and Madeleine Boccia in a candid moment at the opening reception for MOCRA’s “Good Friday” exhibition in February 2009. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Boccia developed a distinctive style that wedded abstract expressionism and figurative styles through a surrealist sensibility, resulting in visually arresting but enigmatic images. He described his work as dealing with “love, lust and life,” and brought together literary themes and archetypes both pagan and Christian in his work. He employed diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs (often on a monumental scale) to depict multiple dimensions of a single concept.

It was such canvases that were displayed at MOCRA in a 1996 exhibition titled Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter, mounted jointly with the McNamee Gallery at Samuel Cupples House (also on the Saint Louis University campus).

"Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter" at MOCRA in 1996.
“Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter” at MOCRA in 1996.

In the exhibition’s introductory texts we noted:

Edward Boccia’s career as a painter may be poetically referred to as a grand house with many rooms. Some rooms, although elegant, are lived in briefly. Other rooms, made more comfortable by the artist’s personal associations, are occupied for years. No room is permanently closed. The artist moves freely from room to room, constantly borrowing ideas from where he has stayed before. The paintings and drawings in this exhibition are grouped by thematic concerns beginning with character sketches done in France during World War II and ending with a nine-panel painting, Eugene’s Journey (1996), that draws upon all of the artist’s skills as a painter and poet.

"Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter" at MOCRA in 1996.
“Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter” at MOCRA in 1996.

"Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter" at MOCRA in 1996.
“Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter” at MOCRA in 1996.

While Boccia’s art reflects the influence of many artists, including Picasso, Cézanne, and Nolde, his great idol was the German expressionist painter, Max Beckmann. It happens that Beckmann taught at Washington University in St. Louis briefly in the late 1940s. Boccia arrived just a few years too late to be Beckmann’s colleague, but he did come into possession of the artist’s easel.

Boccia was introduced to Beckmann’s work by Morton D. “Buster” May, head of the May Department Stores Co. May became Boccia’s great patron and advocate. He bought hundreds of paintings and drawings, right up until his death in 1983. May made generous gifts of the works to friends, colleagues, universities and museums, including Saint Louis University. Generations of SLU students have encountered (and were likely puzzled by) Boccia’s paintings in the halls of DuBourg Hall, the reading rooms of Pius XII Memorial library, and other campus buildings.

Boccia’s work is also well known to people who worship at the Washington University Catholic Student Center Chapel, which is dominated by his grand mural Path of Redemption. A 1964 set of Stations of the Cross commissioned by the Catholic Student Center were part of MOCRA’s Good Friday exhibition (mounted in 2009 and reprised in 2010). Reminiscent of Matisse’s late works, they are made of collaged cut paper and use the motif of hands as an eloquent means of bringing out the deep pathos of the Stations.

Edward Boccia, "Stations of the Cross, No. 4: Jesus Meets His Mother," 1964. Paper collage. Courtesy of the Catholic Student Center, Washington University, St. Louis.
Edward Boccia, “Stations of the Cross, No. 4: Jesus Meets His Mother,” 1964. Paper collage. Courtesy of the Catholic Student Center, Washington University, St. Louis. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Edward Boccia, "Stations of the Cross, No. 13: The Deposition," 1964. Paper collage. Courtesy of the Catholic Student Center, Washington University, St. Louis.
Edward Boccia, “Stations of the Cross, No. 13: The Deposition,” 1964. Paper collage. Courtesy of the Catholic Student Center, Washington University, St. Louis. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

Boccia was an inspirational example of an artist continuing to develop throughout his career. In his mid-60s, he began writing poetry. Several volumes have been published, including Moving the Still Life, and his poetry has won national and international awards.

Appropriately, then, an effort is underway to make Boccia’s artistic legacy an active one. Boccia’s daughter Alice is spearheading a Catalogue Raisonné of Ed Boccia’s works. Scholarly contributions and information regarding the location of Boccia artwork are requested for inclusion in the catalog. Entries may be submitted directly from the website. Also, Saint Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA) has an upcoming exhibition of Boccia’s work, titled Edward Boccia: Triptychs and Polyptychs, scheduled for February 22 – April 21, 2013.

The staff of MOCRA extend our condolences to Ed’s wife, Madeleine, his daughter, Alice Boccia, and his granddaughter, Jennifer Pateraki.

Ed and Madeleine Boccia pose with Ed’s “Stations of the Cross” at the opening reception for MOCRA’s “Good Friday” exhibition in February 2009.

Some of the information for this post was drawn from remembrances published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Beacon. Both articles merit further perusal, and include additional images of Boccia’s work.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

New MOCRA exhibition features Irish painter Patrick Graham

MOCRA’s latest exhibition opened this past Sunday. Patrick Graham: Thirty Years – The Silence Becomes the Painting offers a survey of work by Patrick Graham, frequently cited as Ireland’s most important contemporary artist. Through paintings, collages, and drawings, this retrospective curated by distinguished art historian Peter Selz offers an extraordinary view of the continuum that marks Graham’s psychologically charged explorations into revelation and transcendence.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.
Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

There is no doubt that this is work that challenges viewers. As we note in the text accompanying the exhibition,  Graham’s art may be hard to like, but it is impossible to disrespect it. Patrick Graham has been credited by critics and art historians with changing the face of painting in Ireland. Art historian, writer and curator Peter Selz, who curated this exhibition, says that Graham “confronts the viewer with drawings and paintings of shattering force … [he] makes us aware that great painting has a presence and a future.”

Graham is a thoughtful and articulate man, as interviews with him make clear. His own words provide the title to the exhibition. He muses, “The silence becomes the painting, the painting comes from silence. It is the moment when painting is no longer an act of doing or making but of receiving.”

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.
Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

Graham’s inspiration is deeply rooted in the Irish landscape, in vistas and places that hold deep meaning for him. The Irish affinity for nature, combined with profound experience of the pain which comes from both oppression and repression, has led to extraordinary artistic expressions in poetry, music, and dance. This cultural and artistic milieu formed Graham’s visual expression. His work incorporates ambiguous symbolic forms and scripted phrases that resonate like fragments of traditional song and lyrical poetry which spring from a unique historical consciousness; through them he explores the elemental processes of life and the existential journey. Among the realities he acknowledges in a sensitive voice is the Irish religious experience, particularly of the Catholic faith, yet his work has universal appeal to those who struggle with issues of identity, freedom, or faith.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.
Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

Patrick Graham is widely regarded as Ireland’s most important contemporary artist, and has been recognized by Ireland as a “living national treasure” through his induction into Aosdána (a society that honors outstanding work in the arts) since 1986. Graham was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland in 1943, and studied at the National College of Art in Dublin. He has exhibited in Ireland and internationally since 1966, and is represented in major public and private collections at home and abroad. Graham’s work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and symposia internationally, at venues including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Trinity College Dublin, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, the Hokkaido Museum in Hokkaido, Japan, the University of Michigan, Northeastern University in Boston, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years – The Silence Becomes the Painting was organized by Meridian Gallery/Society for Art Publications with the support of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts in Los Angeles, international agent for Patrick Graham. The exhibition at MOCRA follows showings in San Francisco at the Meridian Gallery of the Society for Art Publications of the Americas and in Washington, D.C., at the Katzen Arts Center of American University. The exhibition is supported by Culture Ireland, the Irish national body for the promotion of Irish arts worldwide.

The exhibition will be on display at MOCRA through December 16, 2012. Learn more here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

MOCRA Voices podcast features Archie Granot and Max Thurm

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, page 20. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.
Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, page 20. Collection of Sandra and Max Thurm. Photo by Jeffrey Vaughn.

MOCRA’s showing of Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah in Spring 2012 proved to be a highly popular exhibition, one that elicited deep appreciation for Granot’s technical virtuosity and sense of design, as well as his skillful manner of reinterpreting a classic religious text for a contemporary audience.  One of our disappointments was that we could not arrange to bring Archie to MOCRA during the run of the exhibition.

Fortunately, in early May MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, SJ, and I had the opportunity to sit down with collector Max Thurm (who with his wife Sandra commissioned The Papercut Haggadah) in the studios of WFUV (90.7 FM) at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. Archie joined us on the phone from his home in Jerusalem. For the next hour or so we enjoyed a wide ranging conversation covering topics such as how Archie was drawn to the art of papercutting, how the commission came about, the special considerations engaged in creating an artwork based on a sacred text, and continuity and innovation in the Jewish tradition. The rapport between Archie and Max was evident from the get-go, and their exchanges open a window on the fascinating process of collaboration between artist and patron.

We are pleased to make an edited version of this conversation available as the latest installment in the MOCRA Voices podcast. You can stream the podcast from our website, or subscribe to the podcast in the iTunes Store. Also be sure to check out the extensive Listening Guide, which delves further into the topics discussed and includes images of many of the pages from The Papercut Haggadah.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Frederick J. Brown memorial service now online

Frederick J. Brown addressing the attendees at the 1995 opening of his "The Life of Christ Altarpiece" at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MIssouri.
Frederick J. Brown addressing the attendees at the 1995 opening of his “The Life of Christ Altarpiece” at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MIssouri.

On July 10, 2012, a memorial service for the late painter Frederick J. Brown was held at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City. Fred’s wife Megan, daughter Sebastienne and son Bentley were in attendance, as well as numerous friends and colleagues. The service was led by Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones of Trinity Church, who also preached at the service. I was honored to serve as Assisting Priest.

The remembrances offered by Fred’s family, friends and colleagues (including Stanley Crouch, Lowery Stokes Sims,* Stephen Rosenberg, and Sherry Bronfman) made manifest a man who was deeply immersed in his heart, but not in a way that isolated him from others. Rather, his art expressed his full and passionate engagement with the people in his life and the movements and events of his time. His daughter Sebastienne shared a note she found in one of his sketchbooks, addressed to those he loved:

When you know I love you, my heart is full, and I love myself. Just to see a smile is enough to keep me afloat in the great sea of life, and I give it back as often as possible. You are my main source and reason to do great things, and to become as complete a human being as I am capable of being. Just remember that I love you.

The vitality of Fred’s life was celebrated in another way through the musical offerings of outstanding jazz musicians including Henry Threadgill and David Virelles, Oliver Lake, and Amina Claudine Myers. Jazz music and the artists who create it were a perennial subject in Fred’s art and an integral part of his life.

Trinity Church has made a video of the service available on its website for a limited time. I encourage you to set aside some time to watch this tribute to an outstanding artist and human being. Watch the video here.

— Terrence E. Dempsey, SJ, Director

* Lowery Stokes Sims was unable to attend the service. Her remembrance was read by Jean-Claude Samuel.

A Tribute to Frederick J. Brown (1945–2012)

Frederick J. Brown (1945-2012)
Frederick J. Brown (1945–2012)

We at MOCRA were saddened to receive word that painter Frederick J. Brown passed away on May 5, 2012. The MOCRA staff extend our condolences to Fred’s wife Megan and his children Sebastienne and Bentley.

Born in 1945, Brown was one of America’s finest and most prolific expressionist artists. His paintings draw on many sources, including his African-American and Choctaw ancestry, his religious upbringing, and the folklore of the South. He referenced religious, historical and urban themes in his work, but was especially noted for his numerous portraits of jazz and blues artists. In fact, the connection between music and painting was a constant in Brown’s life and art. He called music “the catalyst for much of what I do” and frequently worked on a portrait while listening to the subject’s music. In a 2005 interview (cited in this remembrance by Judd Tully), Brown spoke about the vibrant New York cultural scene in the 1970s:

. . . you had these people all around you who were at the top of their game and of the avant garde scene and of the aesthetic thing. . . . Plus, right in front of me, I saw the work ethic. You could go to their studio or they could come to yours, and you could partake in whatever you wanted to partake in and discuss aesthetics at the highest level. You had all this kind of wisdom, information, feedback and back-and-forth.

Brown’s paintings show the influence of the German Expressionists and the American Abstract Expressionists, especially that of his mentor and friend, Willem de Kooning. He exhibited widely throughout the United States and abroad, and his paintings are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the White House. Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art has extensive holdings of Brown’s work, including the ambitious The History of Art (1994–2000). The 110 interlocking paintings, surveying centuries of artistic styles filtered through Brown’s own unique vision, are permanently installed in the museum’s Café Sebastienne (named after Brown’s daughter). In 1988, Brown had the largest retrospective given a Western artist by the People’s Republic of China, and he was the first Western artist ever to have an exhibition at the Museum of the Chinese Revolution (now part of the National Museum of China) in Beijing’s Tienanmen Square.

I first encountered Brown’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the summer of 1985. There in the Met’s contemporary galleries was Brown’s large figurative expressionistic painting of the Ascension of Christ. Compositionally influenced by Raphael’s well-known Transfiguration of Christ, this 9-foot-tall painting commanded the entire gallery in the Metropolitan with its bold colors and confident brushwork.

Frederick J. Brown, The Ascension, 1982. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Frederick J. Brown, The Ascension, 1982. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Its vitality energized one of Christianity’s most frequently depicted subjects, with the top frame barely able to contain the rising Christ figure who bears the physical signs of his crucifixion. And I couldn’t ignore the bewildered man at the bottom of the canvas who stared out at me trying to understand what he is witnessing. With his eye contact he drew me as a viewer into this powerful event.

Since I was just beginning my doctoral dissertation research at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley on the topic of the renewed interest in the religious and spiritual dimensions in contemporary American art, I knew that I had to meet this artist. Nearly a year passed before I was able to get together with Fred in his New York studio in SoHo. Surrounded by canvases in various stages of completion with recordings of the jazz music he so loved playing in the background at full volume, Fred was totally at home in this element. He was surrounded by his depictions of great jazz musicians and visual artists, a large painting of John Henry and a compelling portrait of Sitting Bull, a small but powerful painting of a young Maori warrior, images of the overlooked members of our society, and portrayals of Jesus, David and Goliath, and Moses. (Several of Fred’s paintings can be viewed on his website.) All of them harnessed the energy that he found in bringing together the visual and aural arts, as well as the sacred and profane. Perhaps I should retract the word “profane” because all of his subjects were sacred to him, and every painting revealed the respect that Brown had for his subjects.

Fred and his work became an important part of my dissertation, and in 1989 I also had the opportunity to curate an exhibition of his works in the gallery areas of the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library of the Graduate Theological Union. Upon completing my Ph.D. work in 1990, I began teaching art history at Saint Louis University. The opportunity arose to realize my desire to create the world’s first museum of interfaith contemporary art—what was to become MOCRA—and I knew that I wanted Fred to be a part of that museum. Owing to our lean budget, I had in mind simply borrowing works, but Fred offered to paint a multi-paneled work that would become a permanent part of MOCRA’s collection.

Frederick J. Brown, The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994–1995. MOCRA collection.
Frederick J. Brown, The Life of Christ Altarpiece, 1994–1995. Oil and mixed media on canvas. MOCRA collection, a gift of UMB Banks and the Crosby Kemper Foundations.

Through the generosity of his patrons Crosby Kemper III and UMB Bank, Fred realized that promise in 1995 in the form of The Life of Christ Altarpiece, a work that synthesizes theological, painterly, and cultural concerns. The central triptych, depicting the Baptism of Christ, the Descent from the Cross, and the Resurrection, is flanked by two pendant canvases depicting the Madonna and Child and the Descent into Hell. This major work has been shown frequently at MOCRA ever since, both as an ensemble and as individual panels. We are honored to have this important work in the MOCRA collection. We are pleased to present it from now through August 26, 2012, in memory of a gifted artist and a thoughtful and compassionate human being.

— Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., Director

Other contemporary takes on haggadot and Jewish papercut art

I often find that, as I become deeply immersed in an exhibition at MOCRA, I become highly attuned to news and cultural items that relate to the exhibition. (More prosaically, it’s like the experience of buying a new car and suddenly seeing that model everywhere, on the road, in parking lots. The cars have been there all along, of course; it’s a matter of opening one’s eyes to see them.)  Here on the fourth day of this year’s Passover, I thought I would share a few of the Papercut Haggadah-related  items I’ve come across.

We recently added a new link to the “Art, Religion, & Spirituality” page on the MOCRA website. “Jewish Art Now” states that its mission is “to build an appreciation for contemporary art in Jewish communities and build respect for Jewish art in the contemporary art world. ” The organization’s website showcases Jewish artists from around the world, along with news, reviews, upcoming events and resources for artists and art appreciators. The organization also has a presence in social media and print.

As I was browsing the site recently, my eye was caught by an exhibition titled The Paper Tefillah. The work is by artist Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik and is being shown at a reform synagogue in Memphis, Tennessee. The catalogue is available online here, and here is the artist talking about his work.

Paper Tefillah from Temple Israel on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, at Jewish Art Salon I came across an interview with artist and author Mark Podwal on PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly website. He discusses his recently published haggadah Sharing the Journey. In the interview he connects his approach to expressing the text in his paintings, as well as how his work relates to historic haggadot such as the Prague Haggadah (1526) and the Venice Haggadah (1609). The website also has several pertinent related links about the haggadah, the Passover seder, and more.


Watch Passover Haggadah on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Sitting here in front of me on my desk is a copy of the New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander. I heard about this via an interview with these two authors on NPR’s Weekend edition and was intrigued by their project. I’m looking forward to delving into this new haggadah, but just paging through it, it’s clear that the text has been translated not just by Englander, but by book designer Oded Ezer, an Israeli graphic designer and typographer. Myriad variations and transformations of Hebrew letters flow across the pages, congregating in one spot here or tracing graceful arabesques across a spread there. In other instances they splinter like fractals or disintegrate and dissolve. These letters are purposeful, alive. Ezer talks about his approach to this volume in an interview with Ellen Shapiro of Print magazine. He  says,

Here is what I really want people to know: If I touch the letters I think and I hope that people will be touched by them. I’m a secular Jew and I know this story almost by heart because I’ve heard it every year since I was born, 39 years ago. If we designers are involved with what we do, it’s likely that our audiences will get involved with it too. For years I have been claiming that the real question about typography is not ‘how does it look?’ but ‘how does it behave?’

The interview includes Ezer’s commentary on specific pages in the New American Haggadah.

All of these works are quite distinct from Archie Granot’s approach to the visual interpretation of traditional prayers and texts as embodied in The Papercut Haggadah, but they are all examples of the vitality and variety of contemporary Jewish art and belief.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Also showing at MOCRA . . .

Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah is beautifully installed in MOCRA’s central nave gallery through May 20, 2012. The pages are each unique in design and content, but taking the 55 pages as a sort of musical score, one can discover theme and variation, leitmotif and transformation.

Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah at MOCRA.
Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah, at MOCRA 2/26/12 - 5/20/12.

Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah at MOCRA.
Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah, at MOCRA 2/26/12 - 5/20/12. Foreground, from left: Pages 39 and 38.

Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah, Page 35 (detail).
Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah, at MOCRA 2/26/12 - 5/20/12. Page 35 (detail).

In addition to Granot’s work, we are also displaying a number of works in our side chapel galleries. Drawn from our collection and works on extended loan, these works are by a wide range of artists, including Romare Bearden, Lore Bert, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Jon Cournoyer, Robert Farber, Donald Grant, Steve Heilmer, Dean Kessman, Bernard Maisner, Chris McCaw, DoDo Jin Ming, Daniel Ramirez, James Rosen, Susan Schwalb, Thomas Skomski, Shahzia Sikander, Kazuaki Tanahashi, and Michael Tracy.

Dean Kessman and Bernard Maisner, on display at MOCRA.
Left: Dean Kessman, Rorschach Bible, 1996; Right: Bernard Maisner, "The Trojan Horse ..." (Henry Miller), 1982. On display at MOCRA, 2012.

For the most part, the works were selected to resonate visually and thematically with The Papercut Haggadah, as with the two works pictured above.

Dean Kessman’s cibachrome Rorschach Bible explores questions about perceived and actual reality, and the ways in which scientific and religious understanding interact to determine fact and fiction, or more importantly, truth. The juxtaposed positive and negative images of pages from Leviticus invite us to consider our responsibility in interpretation—of the artwork, of the Bible, of religious propositions—and the relationship between the individual seeker and authority and received tradition. Learn more about Kessman here.

Bernard Maisner is one of today’s finest illuminators of manuscripts. His thematic concerns include “questions of infinity, endlessness, beginnings, endings, emotion, intellect. Unity, opposites, and paradoxes fascinate me.” His visual influences come from many sources (Flemish panel painting, Sienese art, Persian and Indian miniatures, medieval manuscripts, Chinese and Japanese art, and Hebrew micrography) and he draws on texts both classical and contemporary, sacred and secular. Like Granot, he employs venerable media and techniques in novel ways that extend the possibilities of both, as seen with Maisner’s small accordion book “The Trojan Horse …” (Henry Miller). Maisner was featured in a 1999 MOCRA-organized national touring retrospective exhibition titled Entrance to the Scriptorium.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director