MOCRA will be open on Saturday and Sunday of this holiday weekend (July 2 and 3; MOCRA will be closed on Monday, July 4). Amidst all the fireworks, family gatherings, civic observances, and general celebration, a visit to MOCRA might not be the most obvious pick for a holiday activity. But perhaps there’s a value in setting aside some time and space for reflection on America’s past, present, and future. MOCRA presentation of Georges Rouault’s landmark series of etchings titled Miserere et Guerre, continuing through July 31, 2011, could be a prime vehicle for such reflection.
One of the marks of Rouault’s greatness as an artist is how timely his work remains for contemporary audiences. In Miserere et Guerre Rouault reflects in part on the themes of liberty and justice for all in society, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable. The works also ponder whether war can be justified, and if so, what are the true costs and gains of conflict. For Rouault, these questions must be addressed not just in the social sphere, but in the realm of religion and spirituality as well.
Somber (and often divisive) topics, to be sure, but the concerns of Rouault’s day are not so different from many of the challenges we face individually and collectively today. We invite you to let these compelling works speak to you across the decades.
Click here for more information about Miserere et Guerre at MOCRA.
Art critic Jessica Baran considers MOCRA’s 2011 presentation of the complete series of Georges Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre in the May 4, 2011, issue of the Riverfront Times. Baran notes that in this set of prints, “Rouault is utterly his own — creating a strange, wrought world of Christ figures, carnival clowns, kings and weary skeletons cloaked in every black shade.”
MOCRA’s current featured exhibition is Georges Rouault’s complete Miserere et Guerre. It’s a handsome installation that leads viewers in a snaking path through the museum, from the south side aisle through the nave and across to the north side aisle. (See an installation view in yesterday’s post.)
Along the way, however, visitors also have the opportunity to view a number of works in MOCRA’s side chapels, drawn from the MOCRA collection or in a few cases, on extended loan. They include two perennial favorites of MOCRA visitors:
Jeff Miller‘s Holy Spirit (1993) allows its simple, found objects to assume strongly evocative meanings. This Spirit is not a gentle dove but as a strong, forceful eagle. The chair recalls the seat of wisdom, a gift of the Spirit. Chalk lines suggest a true path from which one should not stray. Overall, the interaction between the work’s vertical and horizontal reflects the descent of the Spirit into human activity. But despite these rather grand associations, the work exudes the playful, wry charm characteristic of Miller’s work.
Bay Area artist Donald Grant‘s Vessel (1992) never fails to grab viewers’ attention. The work consists of a painting to which is adhered a large pane of shattered safety glass. Grant has worked the painting beneath the glass as well as the glass itself. Many of the arching lines have been ground into the glass, and the glass explodes at the point where the vessel receives whatever is being poured into it. (The picture does not do justice to the refractive splintering of light scattered from the thousands of cracks in the surface.) Epiphany, destruction, vulnerability, receptivity, transformation—all of these are associations mentioned by visitors.
It seems we have failed to mention officially here on the blog that MOCRA’s current exhibition is a presentation of the complete series of prints that comprise Georges Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre. So, for the record, MOCRA is making this rare opportunity available through July 31, 2011.
This will mark the fourth time MOCRA has shown the full set (previous showings were in 2003, 2000, and 1994), although individual prints have appeared in other exhibitions, including Good Friday.
One opportunity afforded by bringing back Miserere is to note the evolution (and hopefully maturation) in our installations and support materials. For instance, the relocation of our movable walls to the center of the nave gallery made possible a new configuration of the works. Whereas in previous years, we had to hang the works in long, uninterrupted expanses, now the works are hung in smaller groupings, providing more breathing space among the works and allowing them to be comprehended more readily.
SGC International is the largest print organization in North America, and its annual conference is the biggest annual gathering focused on the field of printmaking. This year’s conference, titled Equilibrium, is hosted in St. Louis by the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis. Artists from all 50 states as well as Canada, South and Central America, and Europe will be in attendance. According to the conference organizers,
The conference theme Equilibrium addresses printmaking’s timeless ability to absorb constant change and to balance complementary forces within the shifting landscape of the field. . . . Equilibrium explores the challenges, fluctuating forces, currents, and (new) waves, as well as the poise, reflection, and continuity of print in the 21st century.
MOCRA will be among several museums and galleries participating in the conference’s Saturday events held in the Grand Center Arts District. Come visit us during our regular hours on Saturday, March 19, 2011, to see MOCRA’s exhibition of Georges Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre series, then stroll over to the other museums and galleries in Grand Center for an unforgettable concentration of the best in printmaking past, present, and future.
Artist Tobi Kahn, who has a long association with MOCRA (including the exhibitions Metamorphoses and Avoda: Objects of the Spirit) , was featured in a recent New York Times article on the role art can play in the dying process. (Read the article here.) As he relates in the article, Kahn found that through his artwork he was able to provide a measure of solace to his mother as she lay in the hospital during her final days. From that experience, Kahn was inspired to consult with clergy members, hospice workers and funeral directors about what qualities in art would be comforting to people who are dying.
MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., was interviewed for the New York Times article. He remarks, “One of the common bonds across traditions is the human concern with suffering, love, mortality, immortality. The role of religious art at the end of life is that it helps us focus on what’s really important–an interior healing, even if there is no physical healing, and finally a sense of gratitude.”
I am struck, though, that Kahn is creating art for this privileged point in people’s lives with a measure of intentionality. While many (if not most) health care facilities select art that will be soothing to its patients, and even commission specific works of art and even sculpture gardens or meditation rooms, I wonder how often that art is considered from the perspective of those who know that death is near, that there is no further physical healing to be expected. How can art contribute to palliative care? How can it complement the services of chaplains and hospice workers in accompanying people as they approach the end of life?
Samuel Freedman, the author of the article, suggests that Kahn’s works “subscribe at least loosely to the Judaic concept of ‘hiddur mitzvah,’ sanctifying something (a commandment, if one is literal) by beautifying it.” Amidst all the trappings of current American healthcare–cutting edge technology, powerful pharmaceuticals, agonizing contention over how to pay for treatments–can all parties in their own ways help to beautify, and thereby sanctify, the process of dying?
Georges Rouault ( 1871-1958 ) is an isolated figure in twentieth-century art, a man who remained outside of the group movements and manifestoes that dominated the century, and was possessed of a fixed and persistent artistic vision. A devout Catholic, Rouault’s faith informed his work, which at times seems to serve as a vehicle for moral judgment and retains vitality and relevance today. Rouault himself said, “All of my work is religious for those who know how to look at it.”
One of the highlights of MOCRA’s collection is a complete set of Rouault’s series of etchings titled Miserere et Guerre. The entire set was first shown at MOCRA in 1994, then in 2000 and again in 2003. Individual prints have been included in other exhibitions, including MOCRA’s two fifteenth-anniversary exhibitions, Pursuit of the Spirit and Good Friday.
Rouault’s project was originally conceived as 100 huge etchings to illustrate two books, Miserere (“Have mercy”) and Guerre (“War”), to be written by poet André Suarès. The books never appeared, but under the strenuous demands of the artist’s publisher and dealer, Ambroise Vollard, Rouault composed the majority of the images between 1914 and 1918 and continued to rework the plates in succeeding years. The 58 images (which can be seen here and here) were finally published in 1927 in an edition of 450 copies, and the copper etching plates were canceled. However, because of Vollard’s untimely death in 1939 and legal struggles with his heirs, the etchings were not exhibited until 1948.
The etchings are landmarks in expanding the technical and expressive range of the print. Rouault’s initial ink sketches were photoengraved onto copper plates. He then engraved, used sandpaper, files, edged rollers, scrapers, and painted with acid to achieve amazing effects. He would often work his plates through as many as twelve and even fifteen states to achieve as much depth, variety and richness as he did in full color paint on canvas. Yet always, technique is subordinated to expression in Rouault’s art.
Miserere presents a gallery of scenes and characters. Many of them—clowns, kings, and prostitutes—are familiar inhabitants of Rouault’s paintings, joined in the Guerre section by soldiers, generals and war profiteers. Rouault admits some tenderness into Guerre, as with his image of a gothic Madonna and child echoed in a war widow cradling her son.
But the central recurring figure is that of Christ, from the first title plate that resembles some ancient death monument with the bowed head of Christ in the bottom half, to the image of the Man of Sorrows on Veronica’s Veil in the last plate. Rouault’s caption for this plate, “It is by his stripes that we are healed.” (Is. 53:5), suggests that all the suffering, all the blindness and loneliness, all the wish for love and the fact of war, all that has gone before is compassed in the broken body of Christ. For Rouault the divine face reflects suffering, compassion, and finally hope.
Born out of the unprecedented violence of the First World War and Rouault’s intense compassion for the marginalized and underprivileged, the Miserere stand as a singular achievement in the realms of printmaking and religious art. They speak as forcefully and as poignantly today as when they were first printed nearly 80 years ago.