Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

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

January 5, 2011

The art of dying

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.

Expressing through his work both the pain of suffering and the hope for healing is not new ground for Kahn, who has completed a number of commissions for hospices, hospitals and memorial chapels, along with several Holocaust memorials. And, as MOCRA has demonstrated amply in exhibitions such as Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS, The Greater Good: An Artist’s Contemporary View of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Robert Farber: A Retrospective, 1985-1995, Junko Chodos: The Breath of Consciousness, Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art, Georges Rouault: Miserere et Guerre, and Lewis deSoto: Paranirvana, numerous contemporary artists confront the reality of suffering and death in their work.

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?

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

May 27, 2010

MOCRA moves into the summer

Here at MOCRA we have recently closed our encore presentation of the Good Friday exhibition. As with its first presentation in 2009, we have been impressed with the positive public and critical response. We’re particularly pleased that we seem to have established a museum environment in which visitors can comfortably consider the art across a whole gamut of approaches, from art appreciation to intimate theological reflection or prayer.

We are also gratified that two articles about the exhibition appeared in print in recent months. The first, penned by MOCRA’s Director, Terrence Dempsey, S.J., appeared in America magazine, and discussed the genesis and aims of the exhibition, particularly in the context of Ignatian spirituality. The second, a review of the exhibition by Jessica Murphy, appeared in the British publication The Tablet. Murphy shared her responses to the exhibition, including the insights inspired by certain key artworks. If you haven’t had a chance to read these articles yet, you can find them on the MOCRA website.

Props to the SLU grounds crew for a great makeover of the landscaping around MOCRA!

MOCRA will be closed to the public during the summer months as we attend to some much-needed in-house upkeep. While not all the details are in place yet, I can reveal that our fall exhibition, opening in mid-September, will explore the work of painter James Rosen. Stay tuned for more details.

In the meantime, we invite you to explore the MOCRA website. We’ve been continually updating and expanding the site. For instance, we recently completed a catalog of links for almost all of the artists who have been exhibited at MOCRA. We’ve also been updating and enhancing the pages for previous exhibitions. For instance, check out the pages for DoDo Jin Ming: Land and Sea, or Gorky: The Early Years – Paintings and Drawings, 1927 – 1937. Soon we also hope to be adding additional images and installation views from past exhibitions.

Finally, if you are not already subscribed to MOCRA’s e-mail newsletter, we encourage you to sign up. It’s our best way for providing you with timely updates about what is happening at MOCRA.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

April 7, 2010

The long Good Friday

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday (2010) — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 5:33 pm

MOCRA is extending the exhibition Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art through May 16, 2010.

Now, this may strike the liturgically inclined as a bit of a disconnect, since we are now into the Easter season. What sense is there in stretching out an exhibition that focuses so squarely on the events of the Passion?

While the works in Good Friday focus on themes such as suffering, injustice, and death, they also explore complementary themes of healing, redemption, and renewal. In other words, the experience of Easter is implicit in all of these works, and even explicitly hinted at in several of them, such as this painting by Nick Boskovich titled Emmaus: Rose of the Passion (Requiem for Caravaggio):

Nick Boskovich, Emmaus: Rose of the Passion

Nick Boskovich, "Emmaus: Rose of the Passion (Requiem for Caravaggio)", 2007.

So, although at first blush it may seem jarring to come see a show titled Good Friday during the Easter season, we believe that the works in the show offer important perspectives on the deeper meaning of suffering and redemption.

Furthermore, one of the most-commented upon aspects of this exhibition is the invitation it offers to visitors to allow the works to become gateways to contemplation, meditation, and even prayer. Close to 100 visitors made the exhibition part of their Good Friday observance last week. As a former chapel, MOCRA’s architecture itself fosters an atmosphere of calm and reflection. We don’t believe the practice of this sort of reflection with art is bound by time or season.

Now you have a couple more weeks to explore this rich exhibition for yourself. Find out more about Good Friday here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

March 26, 2010

MOCRA Director speaks on “The Wounded Body of Christ”

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday (2010), Programs and Events — Tags: , — mocraslu @ 5:00 pm

This Sunday, March 28, 2010, MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J. will deliver a free public lecture titled, “The Wounded Body of Christ and the Modern Social Conscience.”

Fr. Dempsey’s lecture will offer an overview of how images associated with the suffering and death of Jesus still have vitality, even in a pluralistic world. Images referring to the events of Good Friday have been employed by the artists of our time not only to manifest an expression of faith but more frequently to address life and death realities such as war, bigotry, poverty, oppression, genocide, sickness and pandemics in order to stimulate empathetic responses within the viewers. Among the modern artists to be discussed are Georges Rouault, Kathe Kollwitz, Max Beckmann, and Graham Sutherland, as well as contemporary artists such as Michael Tracy, Juan Gonzalez, Eleanor Dickinson, Stephen de Staebler, Daniel Goldstein, Luis González Palma, Adrian Kellard, Dinh Q. Le, and James Rosen.

Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., is a Jesuit priest and the Founding Director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA). He holds a Ph.D. in art history and religion from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in conjunction with the University of California at Berkeley, while studying under the direction of Jane Daggett Dillenberger and the late John Dillenberger of the Graduate Theological Union and Peter Selz of the University of California. In 1995, Fr. Dempsey was named the first holder of the May O’Rourke Jay Endowed Teaching Chair in Art History and Religion at Saint Louis University, a position he still holds. He has curated over fifty-five exhibitions, including thirty-six exhibitions for MOCRA. These exhibitions have received significant critical acclaim and positive public response. Fr. Dempsey is also the author of numerous articles and a frequent lecturer.

The lecture begins at 2 p.m. Admission is free. A reception will follow the lecture, and include the opportunity to see the exhibition, Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art, on display through April 25, 2010.

Learn more about the lecture here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

February 24, 2010

A riveting image

As we prepared for MOCRA’s encore presentation of the exhibition Good Friday, we discussed whether there was one image from the many strong works in the exhibition that could represent the show (in 2009, our printed announcements featured thumbnail images of about 20 different works).

Good Friday 2009 exhibition invitation

announcement for 2009 showing of "Good Friday" at MOCRA.

Then, in early January, a cataclysmic event made the choice obvious.

Sr. Helen David Brancato, "Crucifixion - Haiti," 1997.

Sr. Helen David Brancato, "Crucifixion - Haiti," 1997. Collection of MOCRA.

The work we selected is titled, Crucifixion – Haiti. It was created by Sr. Helen David Brancato, a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation located near Philadelphia. The work was included in an exhibition titled Jesus 2000, which was based on a contest sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter that sought to highlight contemporary images of Jesus. The work later entered MOCRA’s collection and has been shown periodically.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sr. Helen. I found out that she has long been an advocate of using the arts for social justice. From 1990 to 2004, Sr. Helen directed an art center in one of Philadelphia’s  poorest neighborhoods. Sr. Helen said that her approach to the art center was based on the philosophy of Dorothy Day, who believed that people are just as hungry for the arts as they are for bread. The center became a safe refuge for creativity for children.

Since 2004, Sr. Helen has been teaching drawing and painting at Villanova University. One of her courses, titled “Art as an Agent of Change,” took 9 to 15 art students into the inner city to work with children through the arts. In recent years, Sr. Helen’s students have been a creative lifeline for students at one of those grade schools, as that school had to let go of its art teacher for budgetary reasons.

In 1989 she traveled with a Pax Christi group to Haiti for two weeks and met with villagers throughout Haiti. She told me that the Haiti trip changed her life. She did a series of 45 to 50 paintings based on that trip. In 1997 Sr. Helen painted Crucifixion—Haiti as a response to a news photograph she saw of a Haitian woman who had just learned that her family members were among the 400 victims who drowned in a ferry boat sinking in Haiti.

We’ve been struck by the frequency with which similar images of a woman fallen to the ground, arms outstretched in a paroxysm of grief, have appeared in media reports on the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

photo by Gerald Herbert, AP

photo by Gerald Herbert/AP

photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times

photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times

While the work was made by Sr. Helen in 1997, it remains resonant today as it reflects the grief, suffering, and perseverance of the Haitian people in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake. We are pleased to be able to share it with MOCRA’s audiences, and hope that it will, in its own way, inspire a compassionate and generous response to the needs of the people of Haiti.

— Terrence Dempsey, SJ, Director


February 23, 2010

“Good Friday” comes to “America”

Cover of America magazine, Mar. 1, 2010MOCRA’s exhibition Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art, is featured in the March 1, 2010 issue of America magazine. The article by MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, SJ, titled “Lenten Mysteries: Perspectives on the Passion in contemporary art,” can be read online here.

In the article, Fr. Dempsey discusses why Good Friday has returned to MOCRA, and explores the ongoing relevance of the image of the suffering Christ for contemporary artists and viewers.

What is your reaction to the article? Do you agree that the image of the wounded Christ is still relevant? Have centuries of use denatured its power, or strengthened it? Have other images perhaps superseded it? Please share your thoughts with us.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

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