Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

March 8, 2010

Revisiting ‘Cosmic Tears’

As reported previously, last fall MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, SJ, and artist Michael Byron talked with John Launius, host of the “Saint Louis Art Map: On the Air” podcast, about the exhibition Cosmic Tears.

Due to technical complications, the interview only recently became available for listening and downloading. This conversation gives insight into Byron’s creative process and the development of the Cosmic Tears works. You’ll also hear Fr. Dempsey talk about MOCRA’s origins in his doctoral research.

“Saint Louis Art Map: On the Air” is a biweekly podcast with interviews and discussions about current and upcoming visual arts events and issues in St. Louis. It is the podcast companion to the Saint Louis Art Map blog.

  • To play the podcast directly in your browser, click here.
  • To hear this and other “Saint Louis Art Map: On the Air” podcasts, or to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, click here.
  • Read the Saint Louis Art Map blog here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

November 30, 2009

Day With(out) Art 2009 … join us in remembering

December 1, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of Day With(out) Art (DWA). Over those twenty years, this annual day of mourning and action has metamorphosed from emphasizing loss (signaled by removing artworks or draping them, or dimming the lights in galleries) to encouraging the creative energy and insight that art can bring to a devastating and demoralizing situation. As the Visual AIDS website notes:

… Day With(out) Art has grown into a collaborative project in which an estimated 8,000 national and international museums, galleries, art centers, AIDS Service Organizations, libraries, high schools and colleges take part.

MOCRA has participated in DWA regularly since 1994. In addition to highlighting particular works of art, three times we have hosted and helped organize observances involving members of the wider arts community. For instance, in 2000 we hosted a DWA observance in conjunction with the exhibition Robert Farber: A Retrospective, 1985-1995. We were joined by members of the theater community, two local gospel singers, members of the Gateway Men’s Chorus, and local visual artists, in dramatically memorializing those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. In 2006, during an encore presentation of Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, we subdued the Clouds and put the focus on photographer Carolyn Jones’ exquisite Living Proof, a series of portraits of people living — thriving — in the face of HIV/AIDS.

Adrian Kellard, The Promise, 1989

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

This year, we observe DWA by exhibiting The Promise, by the late Adrian Kellard, a rising artist in 1980s New York. His large-scale carved wood block panels evoke both medieval shrines and the woodblock prints of 20th-century German Expressionists, but their bright colors and folk-art quality make them accessible to a wide range of audiences.

The Promise riffs on images of St. Christopher, the legendary giant who unwittingly carried the Christ child across a river. The image expresses endurance and perseverance in the midst of suffering. Its enigmatic text, “I will never leave you,” seems to assert love, hope, compassion, and loyalty. It is an especially poignant message when we consider that Kellard’s own life was cut short by AIDS. He died in the fall of 1991 at the age of 32.

The Promise was included in the 1992-93 international traveling exhibition From Media to Metaphor: Art about AIDS, and in the 1994 exhibition Art’s Lament: Creativity in the Face of Death (organized by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston).

MOCRA is pleased to be able to share The Promise with St. Louis audiences for this year’s Day With(out) Art.  MOCRA will have the work on display beginning Tuesday, December 1, through December 13. Find more information here.

I’d like to note also that the current exhibition at MOCRA, Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears, though not directly connected to HIV/AIDS, does speak to the ambiguity of suffering and the challenge it poses to us as a fact of our human existence. I suspect that Byron’s works speak to many of our visitors of the ways in which we can creatively elicit meaning out of all of life’s experiences, both the joys and the tears.

In whatever fashion makes sense to you, we hope you will join us in observing World AIDS Day and Day With(out) Art.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

November 4, 2009

On the air with Michael Byron and Fr. Dempsey

Yesterday afternoon I sat in on an interview with MOCRA’s Director, Fr. Terrence Dempsey, S.J., and Michael Byron. We were at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, and host John Launius was recording the interview for the Saint Louis Art Map: On the Air podcast (available on iTunes or as XML).

The conversation was wide ranging, from broad questions about the potential for art to lead the viewer to an encounter with mystery, to specific questions about the genesis of the Cosmic Tears series and the interplay of text and image in Michael Byron’s work. I was particularly intrigued by Byron’s observations about the transition from the solitary environment of the studio to the public display of work in a museum, and the effect the public setting has on the art and the artist, as well as how he sees his work situated in the grand terrain of art history.

The podcast will be available online early next week, and we’ll have links to it from the MOCRA website…but I encourage you to subscribe to the Art Map podcast and stay up-to-date on the contemporary art scene in St. Louis. It’s an important contribution to the St. Louis arts scene, especially given the increasing paucity of print media coverage, and a great complement to the Saint Louis Art Map blog.

Sitting in on the interview whetted my appetite for Michael Byron’s talk at MOCRA on Sunday, November 15, 2009, at 2 p.m. I’m looking forward to hearing him expand on some of his comments from yesterday, and to hear what questions audience members want to pose about his work. More details about the talk are found here. We hope to see you there.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

October 30, 2009

The principle at hand

Today I am at MOCRA. This is my 42nd day of work in row.* I am tired, but happy. This type of work in the arts is incredibly important to me. The Cosmic Tears exhibit  is a good one and Michael Byron will be speaking about his work on November 15th.

A few weeks ago, two men entered the museum and began looking around. The taller of the two asked me if I was an artist. I said yes. He said that he and his friend were both former students of Michael Byron. We then began discussing the two statements that Byron wrote to go with exhibit:

Cosmic Tears

The Universal Principal upon seeing its Creation, realized

the potential humanity could exert on the world. The very

thought caused a torrent of the tears – one for each man, woman,

and child. Each tear contained all the joy, pain, and sorrow each

person’s life would hold. To this day a cosmic tear is shed at the

birth of each child. It is the womb of our psyche. Our task is to shape that tear into


And on the opposite wall it reads again with a tiny change:

Cosmic Tears

The Universal Principle upon seeing its Creation, realized

the potential humanity could exert on the world. The very

thought caused a torrent of the tears – one for each man, woman,

and child. Each tear contained all the joy, pain, and sorrow each

person’s life would hold. To this day a cosmic tear is shed at the

birth of each child. It is the womb of our psyche. Our task is to shape that tear into


Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears, at MOCRA, Fall 2009.

"Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears," at MOCRA, Fall 2009.

We talked about the definitions of principal and principle. We wondered about the words that were obviously purposefully capitalized. We then concluded that there was something intentional about the isolation and capitalization of “Meaning” at the end of the statements. We decided nothing concrete, but the conversation was enjoyable.

To me, I see a hint of Buddhism when I think of the bittersweet birth of a child. It is a happy occasion, but there is also sadness for me. I know the potential suffering that awaits the child. Buddhists wish to end human suffering and it seems that with each birth inevitably come more suffering and pain.

I am happy at the coming birth of my little girl. I am also worried about the pains life holds for her. Is this a cosmic tear? Or is this a cause of the tears? I think I see what Bryon is saying here…

— Bob Sullivan, Museum Assistant

* Not all of them at MOCRA. Bob has a busy teaching schedule as well! — ed.

October 20, 2009

Cosmic Tears is just the beginning

Filed under: Exhibitions, Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 5:51 pm

Visitor response to Michael Byron’s Cosmic Tears paintings has been positive, with quite a few questions posed about his technique. Just how does he achieve the trompe l’oeil effect of liquid droplets on the canvas?

Michael Byron, "Cosmic Tears 2" (detail), 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Philip Slein Gallery.

Michael Byron, "Cosmic Tears 2" (detail), 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Philip Slein Gallery.

Perhaps Mr. Byron will address that question during his artist’s talk at MOCRA on November 15, 2009.

In addition to the works by Mr. Byron featured in the nave gallery, we are showing works from our collection, and a few works on extended loan, in the side chapel, sanctuary, and choir loft galleries. The artists include:

Seyed Alavi Peter Ambrose Lore Bert
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons Robert Farber Donald Grant
Steven Heilmer DoDo Jin Ming Robert Kostka
Stephen Luecking Bernard Maisner Susan Schwalb
Shahzia Sikander Thomas Skomski Michael Tracy

The works have been chosen to harmonize with the Cosmic Tears works, and so tend to favor abstraction and muted palettes–but by no means are they inaccessible on the one hand, or without impact on the other.

A sampling of the work includes:

Shahzia Sikander, Fourth Space II, 1996. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO.

Shahzia Sikander, "Fourth Space II," 1996. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO.

DoDo Jin Ming, "Free Element - Plate XXXI," 2002. Private collection, St. Louis, MO.

DoDo Jin Ming, "Free Element - Plate XXXI," 2002. Private collection, St. Louis, MO.

Bernard Maisner, "'The Trojan Horse ...' (Henry Miller)," 1982.

Bernard Maisner, "'The Trojan Horse ...' (Henry Miller)," 1982.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

September 22, 2009

The Art of Dancing in the Street

For folks in the St. Louis region (or who might be passing through), there is a plethora of activity going on near MOCRA this Saturday, September 26, 2009. Most significantly for us, the museum will be participating in a gallery walk from 1 to 4 p.m. (Click here for a map of participating galleries.)

The gallery walk coincides with the third annual Dancing in the Street Festival, a celebration kicking off the fall arts season in the Grand Center Arts District. This event, featuring more than 50 dance companies and 700 dancers, runs from 1 to 9 p.m.

And, if all of that hasn’t exhausted your feet or your appetite for culture, you can round things off with the Midtown Alley Street Fest, held on Locust Street just to the east of Grand Center, running from 4 to 10 p.m.

More info about the gallery walk, and how to get to MOCRA, is on the MOCRA website. We hope to see you on Saturday.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

September 15, 2009

Summer’s over, time for art

I imagine that everyone has his or her own threshold demarcating the end of summer: Labor Day, the first day of classes, the first leaves falling from the trees. For me, it’s the opening reception of our Fall exhibition, in the moments after the last of our guests leave. I finally have a chance to sit down and register for the first time the new exhibition in its totality. All of the transitional clutter of the installation process has vanished (well, not entirely…oftentimes it has just been tucked behind closet doors waiting to be sorted in the coming days), and, much like a theater set, the space has been transformed yet again.

Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears at MOCRA, Fall 2009.

"Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears" at MOCRA, Fall 2009.

This was the case Sunday after the pleasantly successful opening reception for Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears. Fr. Dempsey and I sat down after the rest of the staff left, and compared notes about the opening — notable guests, friends old and new, and the responses to the art both overheard and observed.

One of the more interesting questions I fielded was whether we had timed the opening of the exhibition to coincide with the release of the latest images from the recently refurbished Hubble Space telescope. Of course, it’s sheer coincidence, but it’s an intriguing connection. The Hubble images only begin to suggest what creation and destruction on a cosmic scale encompass.

Hubble Space Telescope image of Eta Carinae.

Hubble Space Telescope image of Eta Carinae.

Michael Byron’s Cosmic Tears works do not overwhelm with the magnitude of the Hubble images — they are intimate, contemplative works. But they do pose the questions of whether an artist can tap into the same sort of creative forces that birth and rend galaxies, and whether art can serve as a means of engaging such mind-blowing realities.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

August 28, 2009

Cosmic Tears opens September 13

Filed under: Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears — Tags: , , — mocraslu @ 9:42 am
Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears No. 12, 2003.

Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears No. 12, 2003.

MOCRA’s next exhibition, Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears, opens on September 13, 2009. See the end of the post for opening reception particulars.

In the evocative paintings of the Cosmic Tears series, Mr. Byron explores the relationship of the individual to the universal. The works are based on a text by the artist that meditates on the inevitable mix of emotions that accompanies the act of creation; pain and joy together elicit a “cosmic tear” that is the “womb of our psyche.” Yet the paintings themselves attest to the potential of art to “shape that tear into Meaning.” (The full text on which the works are based will be on view along with the paintings.)

The abstract works simultaneously suggest both microcosmic and macrocosmic perspectives, with forms that suggest continents or constellations. In a number of works, the artist introduces trompe l’oeil images of water droplets; this effect recalled for MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., the opening lines of William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence“:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears "C", 2009.

Michael Byron, Cosmic Tears "C", 2009.

While several of the Cosmic Tears works have been exhibited previously, this is the first exhibition focusing just on this series, and it includes a number of recently completed works. You can read reviews of Mr. Byron’s work, including the Cosmic Tears series, here (scroll almost to the bottom of the page and look for the heading “The Outlaw Printmakers and Michael Byron”).

Mr. Byron is Professor of Painting at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. In his distinguished career he has exhibited throughout the United States, as well as in the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, and Mexico. He was selected for the 1989 Whitney Biennial. His work is included in many public collections including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen (Rotterdam), and the Tamayo Museum (Mexico City). See his resume and a sampling of his work from the Philip Slein Gallery.

Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears
September 13 – December 13, 2009

opening reception Sunday, September 13, 2009, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.*

If you’re in the St. Louis region on September 13, please stop by and see the exhibition.

* the artist is unable to be present at this event, but he will be giving a talk on November 15, 2009, followed by a reception.

— David  Brinker, Assistant Director

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