Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

December 8, 2011

A ship comes into port

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.

Adrian Kellard, St. Francis screen, 1985.

Adrian Kellard, St. Francis screen, 1985. Collection of Antonia Lasicki and William Devia, Niskayuna, NY.

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.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion, 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion, 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.

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.)

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA. Here a section of the wooden fringe has been removed temporarily to expose the boat marker (upper right corner of the central panel) more clearly.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86. Collection of MOCRA. The boat marker is in the upper right.

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.

December 1, 2011

Observing a Day With(out) Art

AIDS awareness ribbonEach year December 1 is observed throughout the world as a day of solidarity with those living with HIV/AIDS, and of remembrance of those who have died. December 1 is also Day With(out) Art, on which museums and galleries worldwide celebrate a day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis, with such events as shutting down museums, sending staff to volunteer at AIDS services, or sponsoring special exhibitions of work about AIDS.

Across the nation, many venues will be screening a new film, Untitled, from filmmakers Jim Hodges, Encke King, and Carlos Marques da Cruz. Learn more about the film, and find links to participating venues, here.

A visit to MOCRA’s current exhibition, Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion, is another way to mark this special day. Kellard’s life was cut short by AIDS in 1991, and he grappled with his experience of illness through his art. His colorful woodcuts poignantly express both pain and enduring faith.

Adrian Kellard, The Promise, 1989

Adrian Kellard, "The Promise," 1989. Latex on wood. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian Kellard.

Today we also release a special episode of the MOCRA Voices podcast series, featuring an interview with curator and art historian Thomas Sokolowski. Sokolowski was instrumental in the founding of Day With(out) Art and the creation in 1991 — 20 years ago — of the red ribbon for AIDS awareness. In this interview, Sokolowski talks about the close relationship between art and AIDS activism, and reflects on the past, present and future role of art where AIDS is concerned.

We’ve prepared an extensive Listening Guide to accompany the podcast, with information about the 20th anniversary of the red ribbon, activist art, and more.

The podcast can be streamed from MOCRA’s website or downloaded from the iTunes Store. Visit the MOCRA Voices website to get the podcast and explore the Listening Guide.

As we pause to reflect, remember, and renew on this day, let us recommit ourselves to generous and untiring support and care for those living with HIV/AIDS,  and redouble our efforts to find a cure. Let us cultivate, as Adrian Kellard urged, healing — the learned art of compassion.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

November 14, 2011

Adrian Lee Kellard, 1/28/59 – 11/14/91

Adrian Kellard with The Promise

Kellard in his apartment, ca. 1990, with "The Promise."

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of artist Adrian Kellard’s death. In a recent post, I quoted some of the entries in the exhibition guest book to give an anecdotal sense of the effect his art and life have on our visitors. On this anniversary day, we share a brief reflection from Kellard’s close friend, artist photographer Regina DeLuise:

“To be human is to know loss. On some level I’ve never really felt without Adrian, although I long to hear his voice.

Today is the day he died. To have spent the fall season involved with The Learned Art of Compassion has made this Nov 14th most remarkable for me. Adrian’s life was one filled with passion, dedication and love. Even though he died young, his life felt complete to me. Knowing his work needed to be in the world has been running parallel to my own personal aspirations, rather like living two lives. This exhibition represents a birth to me, a true future for the life’s work of my dear friend.
— Regina DeLuise”

N.B. A recently posted episode of the MOCRA Voices podcast features Regina DeLuise and others reminiscing about Kellard. Click here for more information and to listen to the podcast.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

November 11, 2011

The other 11/11/11

In addition to being Veterans Day in the U.S., and Armistice or Remembrance Day elsewhere, November 11 is St. Martin’s Day or Martinmas, which takes its name from St. Martin of Tours.

Martin was born in 316 in modern-day Hungary. He served as a cavalry soldier in the Roman army and was stationed in modern-day Amiens, France, when he had a life-changing encounter with a scantily-clad beggar. On impulse, Martin cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, he had a dream in which Jesus was wearing the half-cloak. Martin was baptized soon after, but remained in the army for two more years. In 336, before a battle with the Gauls, he came to the conclusion that his faith prohibited him from fighting, leading to his being jailed as a coward. Nonetheless, he was eventually released from imprisonment and from military service. (Martin’s conversion experiences have resulted in him being claimed as a patron saint by both soldiers and conscientious objectors, among others.) Martin went on to become the bishop of Tours in France. He was among the first non-martyrs to be venerated as a saint, and after his death on November 8, 397, his shrines became major pilgrimage destinations. The earliest account of his life is recorded by Sulpicius Severus, who knew Martin personally.

This date caught my eye this year in particular because one of the works in MOCRA’s exhibition Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion has as its subject Martin’s act of generosity toward that mysterious beggar.

Adrian Kellard, St. Martin of Tours coat rack, 1985

Adrian Kellard, St. Martin of Tours coat rack, 1985

The work quotes from the well-known painting by El Greco (now found in the National Gallery of Art).

El Greco, St. Martin and the Beggar, c. 1597

El Greco, St. Martin and the Beggar, c. 1597

A few details about Kellard’s piece suggest that he had some keen insight into the deeper meaning of this episode. For instance, El Greco portrayed Martin in the armor of a contemporary 16th-century Spanish soldier. The armor is decorated with gold filigree, and (as best as I can make out from reproductions) seems to incorporate the Cross of St. James, associated with the Spanish Order of Santiago: a red cross that terminates in a sword. It is a symbol born out of warfare and was used extensively during the Crusades.

But in Kellard’s work, these decorations are transformed into hearts surmounted by crosses, a variant on the Sacred Heart, which represents the unconditional love and compassion of Christ toward humankind. It suggests here the impulsive compassion and sense of identification Martin experienced toward the shivering man before him. The heart motif is repeated on the panel the runs along the bottom of the work. What’s not apparent from the frontal view above is much clearer from the side.

Adrian Kellard, St. Martin of Tours coat rack (detail), 1985.

Adrian Kellard, St. Martin of Tours coat rack (detail), 1985.

Yes, those are coat hooks. This is a functional work of art that served as the coat rack in Kellard’s apartment. Beyond its utilitarian purpose, this is a coat rack that speaks of hospitality and open-heartedness.

An underlying theme of the exhibition is the movement toward greater compassion. It’s something that Kellard seems to have experienced in his own life, particularly following his AIDS diagnosis. His later artworks suggest that, rather than collapsing into despair, self-pity, or anger at God, his spirit instead seems to have blossomed outward. Like Martin, Kellard recognizes Christ in suffering humanity, but unlike Martin he could see the beggar every time he looked in the mirror. Kellard experienced alienation, dismissal, discrimination, and fearful responses to his disease firsthand. His art certainly expresses that pain, and the justifiable anger he felt at times. But the works aren’t mired in the pain or the anger; rather, they call viewers to recognize their own frailties in the suffering of others, no matter how foreign or unsettling those others might be.


There is a risk in including the word “compassion” in an exhibition title. It’s easy enough to deploy the word, difficult to articulate what it means, and more challenging yet to embody in one’s life. I have been hearing for a while about the Charter for Compassion movement initiated by author Karen Armstrong, and have begun exploring its website. Among the resources are six brief talks on compassion from the perspectives of several faith traditions.

Of the talks I’ve listened to so far, a common observation is that compassion begins when we can recognize ourselves in others; compassion grows as our capacity for empathy deepens. For Christians, the touchstone might be the parable of the final judgment in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel, with its admonition that “whatever you did for one of these least ones, you did for me.” Among the talks on the Charter for Compassion website, Robert Wright employs both evolutionary biology and game theory to give some rational basis for compassion, an interesting counterpoint to the religious and moral points of departure in the other talks. I’m particularly taken by Tenzin Robert Thurman’s meditation exercise for “expanding our circle of compassion.”

As we remember Martin of Tours, the many veterans who have served their country, and the fragile but perennial hope for peace in our times, may we all find our circles of compassion growing in diameter, our hearts opening a bit more each day.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

November 10, 2011

Adrian Kellard: Marking 20 Years

November 14, 2011, is the twentieth anniversary of artist Adrian Kellard’s death. This significant date, along with the 30-year anniversary of the identification of HIV as the virus that causes AIDS, was in our consciousness as we planned the exhibition Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion.

One way to mark an anniversary is to share memories and stories of the deceased. Recently MOCRA’s Director, Terrence Dempsey, S.J., was joined by Kellard’s dear friend Regina DeLuise and his gallery dealer, Susan Schreiber, to look back at the artist’s life and legacy. All three knew him well, and the ensuing conversation elicited stories both humorous and poignant. This conversation was recorded and is available to the public through the MOCRA Voices podcast. You can stream or download the audio from the MOCRA website, or if you like, subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.

However, in a sense Kellard’s story continues to unfold as new audiences discover his work through the MOCRA exhibition. One of Kellard’s sisters attended the opening in September and brought with her a small journal that served as the guest book for the last exhibition prior to his death, in October 1991. She asked if we might make the book available to our visitors as well.

Guest book for Adrian Kellard exhibition.

Guest book for Adrian Kellard exhibition.

Glancing through the book, I’m struck by one of the last entries from 1991, written by Jed Devine, who organized that exhibition:

Adrian–

Thank you for the most powerful and beautiful show we have had in this space. You are magnificent.

It is followed on the next page by the first entry from 2011:

This is truly one of the best exhibits MOCRA has done. … Truly REMARKABLE!!!

His work seems to elicit comments from deep places in many visitors. Here are a few excerpts from the past month-and-a-half:

Thank you for loaning me your eyes through your art — you have refreshed me and renewed my faith and spirituality. Your death has been transformed into gift that allows me to draw close and be instructed by your heart.

*****

Wonderfully evocative and sensually intelligent reflections of faith and identity. The dimensions of shape and use of color really make my heart sing and inspire deep reflections.

*****

The works of God have been made manifest in you, Adrian. Thank you for opening your life and faith to the world through such compassion, beauty, and truth.

We invite you to come and see the exhibition, and if you are so moved, to add your own words to this small testament to the impact of one artist whose work is a manifestation of a life lived with remarkable integrity, focus, creativity, and compassion. In the words of another visitor:

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

November 7, 2011

Adrian Kellard exhibition reviewed: “A show of rare impact”

MOCRA’s exhibition Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion was reviewed recently in the St. Louis weekly Riverfront Times. Art critic Jessica Baran writes that “Kellard forged an indelible style; this survey conveys a sense of a mature, self-assured artist with a life’s worth of range.” The result, she says, is “both profound and generous.”

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

New on MOCRA Voices: Adrian Kellard podcast

MOCRA Voices logoEarly this year we launched MOCRA Voices, a podcast series of conversations with thinkers and practitioners at the intersection of contemporary art, religion, and spirituality. Our aim is to take listeners in-depth with artists, scholars, theologians, religious leaders, and others who are engaged in the ongoing dialogue between visual art and the religious and spiritual dimensions.

We’ve just posted a new episode that focuses on the art and life of Adrian Kellard, the subject of MOCRA’s current exhibition, Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion. Host John Launius and MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., are joined by Regina DeLuise, a close friend of Kellard and an artist photographer in her own right, and Susan Schreiber, Kellard’s New York gallery dealer. Dempsey, DeLuise, and Schreiber share stories of Kellard that serve to illuminate his artistic aims and influences, his distinctive visual style and treatment of his woodcut medium, and the ways in which Kellard’s upbringing, sexual orientation, and faith found expression in his work.

In addition to the podcast itself, we’ve prepared an extensive listening guide that provides context about the East Village art scene, the early years of the AIDS pandemic, the art of woodcuts, and more.

MOCRA Voices is made possible with financial support from the Regional Arts Commission.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

September 14, 2011

The Learned Art of Presence

MOCRA’s upcoming exhibition features the work of artist Adrian Kellard, who died in 1991 from AIDS-related causes. His name joined the too-long litany of creative lives cut short by the shears of the pandemic. This exhibition falls during the 30th year of the plague and the 20th anniversary of Kellard’s death, and the impact of AIDS on Kellard’s life is one sub-theme of the exhibition. The references are direct and explicit in some works, such as The Promise, Prayer of the Faithful in Ordinary Time, and Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion. But overall a sense of compassion and spiritual strength suffuses all of the works, qualities that sustained Kellard through the struggles associated with the disease.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86.

Adrian Kellard, "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" (detail), 1985-86. Latex on wood. MOCRA Collection.

Yesterday I came across a recent New York Times review of We Were Here, a recently released documentary about the response of San Francisco’s gay and lesbian community to the onslaught of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. The article caught my eye not only for its resonances with the Adrian Kellard exhibition, but also because the documentary includes an interview with artist Daniel Goldstein. Works from Goldstein’s Icarian series were included in MOCRA’s seminal 1994 exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS, and one of the works is now in the museum’s collection. That work appeared in MOCRA’s Good Friday exhibition, and prompted a thoughtful reflection from one of our visitors, recorded in this blog post. For the Icarian series, Goldstein took  leather covers from workout benches salvaged from a gym in the Castro District and enclosed them in simple but noble framing cases–creating, in a real sense, reliquaries for these mementoes of the many men who used the gym.

Daniel Goldstein, Icarian II / Incline, 1993.

Daniel Goldstein, "Icarian II / Incline," 1993. Leather, sweat, wood, copper, felt, plexiglas. Private collection.

Like Kellard, Goldstein employs his art to mediate and express a response to the reality of AIDS. Goldstein, it should be noted, also founded two non-profit organizations to generate funds for AIDS-related education and services. The trailer for We Were Here (on the film website, or on YouTube) includes snippets of the interview with Daniel Goldstein (he is the third person to speak).

As I re-read an essay by Robert Atkins on the Icarian series, I’m struck by one line: “The gay/AIDS subtext of Goldstein’s work is also open to a generational reading.” Atkins is referring to the different ways in which the works might be apprehended by gay men who remember a pre-AIDS world and those who grew up under the specter of AIDS. Since MOCRA is a university museum, I’m reminded of the “Mindset Lists” that circulate at the beginning of every academic year, updating educators on their students’ cultural frame of references. AIDS and HIV don’t rate a mention on this year’s list — the disease was entrenched well before these students were born, and reasonably effective treatments have been on the market for most of their lifetimes — so I’m curious to see how much background we’ll have to provide, how much translation will be entailed, in helping our younger visitors make a connection to Adrian Kellard’s work.

But, as with Goldstein’s reliquaries, the deeper currents of compassion, love, service, hope, and cherished memory expressed in Kellard’s woodcuts, flow well beyond the specificity any one disease, any one group of people, any one city, any one generation.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

September 9, 2011

Assembling Adrian Kellard

Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) Fall 2011 exhibition will be a presentation of selected works by American artist Adrian Kellard (1959–91). Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion opens September 24 and continues through December 11, 2011.

This installation process has been more involved than most at MOCRA. As happened with many visual artists who were struck down by AIDS in the first decade of the pandemic, the long-term disposition of his estate and works was somewhat ad hoc. Several of his works found their way into museum collections (including MOCRA’s), but many others have been safeguarded in the homes of various friends and family members. So, a certain amount of effort has been involved in locating and securing the loan of works in the exhibition.

Components of an artwork by Adrian Kellard

Components of Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" wait to be fitted into place.

Additionally, a number of the works are built up of multiple component pieces. In some cases, we’ve only had photos of previous installations or of the works set up in Kellard’s gallery to go on in reconstructing the works. It’s like assembling a large IKEA dining room set without the step-by-step instructions . . . that is, if IKEA’s wood products came carved in bold lines and painted in arresting yellows, reds, and teals. Kellard’s best-known work is in the stylistic tradition of German Expressionism. Household paint on pine panels was his primary medium, and his principal tool was an X-ACTO knife.

Installing work by Adrian Kellard at MOCRA

MOCRA's installation team considers their next move assembling Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion"

MOCRA’s installation team was recently assembling Kellard’s major altarpiece titled Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion. This large-scale work has an architectural quality, with a number of smaller components that come together in one grand statement. Each element, from the bold portrait of Christ to the decorative wooden fringe hanging from the canopy, contributes to the overall effect.

Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion"

Adrian Kellard, "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" (1985-86) -- assembled, but not yet properly lit.

This work brings together many of Kellard’s common themes and sources, including visual quotes from works of religious art of the past, portraiture, Biblical references, personal biography, and an affinity to the work of the German Expressionists. Kellard’s work reflects his deep faith and a complicated set of identities: Irish-Italian ancestry, Catholic, gay. He brought all of these realities, and later on his struggle with AIDS, into his work.

MOCRA is fortunate to have the largest collection of Kellard’s work in any single art institution. Several works have been shown in MOCRA group exhibitions over the years, but now, 30 years after the identification of HIV and 20 years after Kellard’s death, we are pleased to present this solo exhibition in­cluding a number of Kellard’s most important works.

If you will be in the St. Louis region on Saturday, September 24, we hope you will join us for a free public opening reception from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Learn more about the exhibition on MOCRA’s website.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

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