Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

July 19, 2012

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.

February 23, 2012

A preview of The Papercut Haggadah

Today’s edition (2/23/2012) of the St. Louis Jewish Light includes an article previewing MOCRA’s new exhibition, Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah. The article includes comments from artist Archie Granot, and collector Max Thurm (who with his wife Sandra commissioned the work), along with a few framing remarks from yours truly. Read the article here.

Archie Granot

Archie Granot

Granot (pictured) was commissioned to present the story and rituals of the Passover Seder in the traditional medium of papercutting. The resulting 55 pages employ intricate geometric and abstract shapes and calligraphic text to create an exquisite and unique version of the Haggadah.

Granot expresses his hope that viewers will be inspired by a labor of love that reflects much thought and introspection. “The creation of a Haggadah for Passover is the ultimate dream for any artist creating Jewish art,” he said. “I have been lucky in that I have achieved this dream.”

We’re putting the finishing touches on the installation, and look forward to welcoming visitors to immerse themselves in Granot’s realization of the Haggadah. Learn more about The Papercut Haggadah on MOCRA’s website.

— David Brinker

February 18, 2012

The Papercut Haggadah opens 2/26/12 at MOCRA

MOCRA’s next exhibition is titled Archie Granot: The Papercut Haggadah. Israeli artist Archie Granot was commissioned to present the story and rituals of the Passover Seder in the traditional medium of papercutting. The resulting 55 pages employ intricate geometric and abstract shapes and calligraphic text to create an exquisite, unique version of the Haggadah.

A free public opening reception will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2012, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Collectors Sandra and Max Thurm, who commissioned the work, will be in attendance. The exhibition will be on display at MOCRA through May 20, 2012.

Click here to visit the exhibition page on MOCRA’s website, or continue reading to learn more about the show.

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, Page 46.

Archie Granot, The Papercut Haggadah, Page 46. 1998-2007. Collection of Sandra and Max Thurm. Courtesy of the artist.

About the exhibition

Haggadah (הַגָּדָה) is Hebrew for “telling,” namely, the telling of the Exodus story at the Seder service during the Jewish festival of Pesach, or Passover. The term also signifies a book that contains the ritual guide to the Seder, along with scripture passages, commentary, prayers, and songs. For centuries the Haggadah has been one of the most celebrated items of Jewish literature and art, and there are many examples of both handwritten and printed Haggadot with intricate illustrations. In each generation artists continue the tradition of reinterpreting the Haggadah for contemporary believers.

Commissioned by Sandra and Max Thurm, Archie Granot’s Papercut Haggadah was handcrafted using the Jewish folk art tradition of papercutting. The result is a series of 55 pages that employ intricate geometric and abstract shapes and calligraphic text to create an exquisite version of the Haggadah.

Granot evokes the intense emotions attached with the Passover Seder by utilizing geometric and abstract shapes instead of the usual symbols. Every word of Hebrew text in his Haggadah is handcut, with each page standing as both an independent work of art and a single piece of a beautiful, thematically unified whole. Each page of his multi-layered paper pieces (some nearly an inch thick) tackles a certain aspect or song associated with the Seder, such as “Ma Nishtanah” (מה נשתנה, The Four Questions), or “Pesach, Matzah, Maror” (פֶּסַח, The Passover Offering; מַצָּה, the Unleavened Bread; and מָרוֹר, the Bitter Herb), which incorporates shapes that evoke the traditional matzah.

About the artist

Archie Granot was born in London in 1946 and moved to Israel in 1967. Prior to settling in Jerusalem in 1978, he was a member of an agricultural community where he milked cows and grew melons. He earned a M.Phil. in Russian Studies from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and a B.A. in Political Science and Russian Studies from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Granot started papercutting in 1979, and maintains a studio and gallery in Jerusalem. Many of his papercuts carry a reminder of the Holy City, a source of his inspiration, and he often employs texts that relate to Israel, Judaism, and Judaica. Granot has had solo exhibitions in the United States, Israel, and Germany, and has participated in group exhibitions in France and Japan. His works are found in public collections in Israel, Germany, England, and the United States, as well as numerous private collections.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

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 7, 2011

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 10, 2011

Shock and serenity

The tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, poses challenges to those who are somehow involved in the civic and cultural life of a community. There is little doubt that it is a significant occasion, but much harder to articulate the nature and interpretation of its significance, and harder still to shape and produce rituals, objects, or writings that meet the demands of the day. Nonetheless, we must try, and so here we offer a few reflections from MOCRA.

That September morning I woke up as usual with NPR’s “Morning Edition” on my bedside radio. So it was that I heard the first reports of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. By the time I arrived at the museum the terrible events of the day were continuing to unfold, and I joined colleagues and students in a nearby classroom building, sickeningly spellbound by the ceaseless repetition of the footage of the buildings collapsing.

Andy Warhol's "Silver Clouds" at MOCRA

Andy Warhol's "Silver Clouds" at MOCRA.

I don’t recall that the work we had on display at the time (selections from the MOCRA collection) particularly spoke to the tragedy. But later that fall, we put up a show that did seem to offer a peculiar sort of consolation. MOCRA’s Director, Terrence Dempsey, SJ, gives this recollection:

“In the fall of 2001, MOCRA opened Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds. Our large chapel space was filled with over 60 of Warhol’s pillow-shaped, silver coated mylar balloons with just the right balance of helium and air and stirred about the space by over 25 fans. Some people likened it to being inside an aquarium with schools of fish gently swimming by; others likened it to being inside a lava lamp. At times we would play The Gymnopedies of Erik Satie to serve as a musical score for the Clouds’ improvised choreography.

One woman came into the museum and sat down in the center of the space for about a half hour, with the Clouds gently floating by her and brushing against her. After the half hour, she got up, walked over to me and with tears in her eyes, said, ‘You have no idea how important this exhibition has been to me at this time—thank you,’ and then she left. I don’t know what was going on in her life—whether it had anything to do with 9/11 or if it was some personal matter—but somehow that experience was a healing one for her.”

Something about the Clouds allows them to connect with all sorts of people. Perhaps it’s their immediacy and presence, or their ability to project a sense of personality. They seem liberated and resilient, yet at the same time vulnerable.

A year later, on the first anniversary of 9/11, the Silver Clouds were back for an encore presentation. That day we showed an HBO-produced documentary titled “In Memoriam” throughout the day. The Clouds were corralled into one corner of the nave gallery, restrained from floating for that first anniversary observance. It seemed to be an appropriate occasion for rehearsing and interpreting the events of the tragedy. Words and on-site footage were the order of the day. Still, the Clouds were flying again the next day, mute but speaking truths nonetheless.


A September 9 article in the New York Times describes contention over the role of clergy in September 11 memorial observations. Religion is bound up with September 11 and its aftermath, from controversies over the interpretation of the Koran to questions about whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a morally justified response. The clamor over a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero and an expanded mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, shows that religion and its manifestations remain a divisive issue. Has the concept of “civic religion” run its course? How do we find common ground without sacrificing our specificity of belief and practice?

There are some moderate, nuanced voices in the wilderness. Public radio’s “On Being” has a new program out, “9/11: Who Do We Want To Become / Remembering Forward Ten Years After,” featuring The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg, journalist and novelist Pankaj Mishra, and theologian Serene Jones.

In the St. Louis region at least, and I suspect in all quarters, the arts, especially music, are playing a prominent role in the memorial observances. For instance, a number of arts, religious, and civic organizations have come together to present “An Interfaith Memorial in Music commemorating the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.” The organizers describe it this way:

This event, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, will be religious and interfaith in character. It will be a program to inspire and allow reflection, express sorrow and regret, and unify the community in hope for peace. One statement of the message of the event: although we cannot directly bring about world peace, we can do what we can, in our community, together and in public. The program will include:

  • First Responders from the County Police and City and County Fire Departments, Presentation of the colors
  • Senator John Danforth, Invocation
  • Christine Brewer, Soloist, Opera Theatre of St. Louis
  • String Quartet, St. Louis Symphony
  • Religious musical expressions of various faith communities

It seems that this service is in part an outgrowth of interfaith dialogue that took place surrounding a production of the John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer at Opera Theatre of St. Louis in Summer 2011.

For those wishing to attend the Interfaith Memorial, it takes place on September 11, 2011, 5:30-6:30 p.m., at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd., St. Louis 63108. Click here for more information.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

March 16, 2011

St. Louis welcomes Printmaking Conference

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,2011 SGCI Conference logo

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.

Find links to the conference website, and additional information,  on the MOCRA website.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

March 15, 2011

MOCRA Director to lecture in NYC on March 16, 2011

MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., will give a lecture tomorrow evening, March 16, at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York City. The lecture, titled “The Crucifixion in Art History,” begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Drawing on the work of over 25 artists from the fifth century to the present day, Fr. Dempsey will give a slide-illustrated lecture on the origins of Crucifixion images and how those images have evolved in various cultures over the centuries.

St. Ignatius Loyola Church is located at 980 Park Avenue (at 84th St.), New York, NY 10028. For more information, call 212-288-3588 or click here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

February 19, 2011

If you could ask artist James Rosen a question, what would it be?

Did you visit MOCRA’s recent exhibition James Rosen: The Artist and the Capable Observer and come away with questions about Rosen’s techniques, subject matter, or intentions? Perhaps your interest has been piqued by posts here on the MOCRA blog or the recent interview on the “Iconia” blog.

Since circumstances prevented James Rosen from visiting St. Louis during the exhibition, we are going to record a conversation between Rosen and MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., this coming week of February 20, 2011. If all goes well, we plan to make the conversation available through our website. We already have a number of questions we want to ask Rosen, but we would like to include one or more questions from our audience.

If you have a question you would like to ask James Rosen about his work, please e-mail it to us, post it on our Facebook wall, or call us at 314-977-7170. Please make your question as specific as possible, and include your first name and last initial, as well as your location. Questions must be received by Thursday morning, February 24.

We cannot guarantee that all questions will be used in the interview, but will include as many as we can. We are excited to be adding a new dimension of artist interaction to our programming, and hope you will consider participating in this experiment.

Find more information and additional links here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

September 22, 2010

Opening weekend is almost here

The opening of the James Rosen exhibition is looming, and (not unpredictably) we are intently making final decisions about placement of the work, editing the wall texts and labels, and calculating how much capacity remains in the storage closets to sweep up all the detritus before the company arrives on Sunday.

James Rosen sketches

Some of the James Rosen sketches selected for display in "The Artist and the Capable Observer."

Rosen's Saints in waiting

Several of James Rosen's "saint" paintings await installation.

James Rosen: The Artist and the Capable Observer opens this coming Sunday, September 26, with a free public reception from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. We are disappointed that, due to unforeseen circumstances, Mr. Rosen can’t be with us for the opening. However, we are optimistic that he will be able to visit St. Louis later this fall for a public lecture and master class.

We have some special parking options on Sunday for the opening reception, so be sure to download this PDF with directions and a map.

On Saturday, MOCRA takes part in Saint Louis University’s Homecoming celebrations, and everyone benefits–we’ll be open for a sneak preview of the exhibition from 11 to 4 p.m. Overlapping with that, MOCRA will be participating in a gallery walk from 1 to 4 p.m. The gallery walk coincides with the fourth annual Dancing in the Street Festival, featuring more than 50 dance companies and 700 dancers, and the Earthways Center’s Green Homes Festival.


We are finally at my favorite phase of exhibition preparation, when everything begins to gel. The internal logic of the installation has become apparent and, made manifest in the works hung on the walls, begins to yield new insights into the work.

Along the way, we have moments of levity amidst the stress. For instance, several staff members have commented on the way that Mary peers out at us from one work, Homage to Guido da Siena: Maestà. It’s an inversion of the exhibition title–the artwork becomes the “capable observer”–an effect enhanced by the positioning of the work in its traveling frame:

Rosen's Maestà has a discerning eye.

The Madonna in this homage to a painting by Guido da Siena catches the eye of passersby.

We hope to see you this Saturday, Sunday, or in the coming weeks.
– David Brinker, Assistant Director
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