Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

April 13, 2011

Now that we’ve mentioned Rouault

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, "The Holy Spirit," 1993. Mixed media. MOCRA collection.

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.

Donald Grant, "Vessel," 1992. Acrylic on panel under tempered glass. Courtesy of the artist.

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.

Other artists whose work is on display include: Seyed Alavi, Peter Ambrose, Romare Bearden, Michael Byron, Steven Heilmer, Bernard Maisner, Chris McCaw, DoDo Jin Ming, James Rosen, Susan Schwalb, and Shahzia Sikander. And of course, the large works by Thomas Skomski and Michael Tracy remain on view in the sanctuary and choir galleries, respectively.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

October 29, 2009

Reflecting on “Good Friday”

It is gratifying to report that an article I wrote appeared in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Aquinas Institute of Theology‘s Signatures magazine. (In the interest of full disclosure I must note that I am presently in graduate studies at AI.) You can find the article online here (it begins on page 9 of the PDF file).

I was invited to write on the intersection of art and religion, drawing on my experiences working at MOCRA. Had I been asked a year prior, I would probably have written generally about the museum’s mission and the ground we’ve covered in our exhibitions. But coming on the heels of MOCRA’s Good Friday exhibition, I knew just where I wanted to go with the article.

“The Presence of God in Art” describes the power that Good Friday held for several groups who engaged with the art as a form of theological reflection and prayer. Over the course of almost 15 years I have given presentations to dozens of groups of all ages and from all walks of life. Often the observations made, and the discussion they spark, can be quite revelatory, both about the work of art at hand and about the people making the remarks. However, there was a marked difference with the group discussions that took place with Good Friday.

An explicit invitation to approach the art in an attitude of meditation or prayer seemed to unlock a door for a number of our visitors who, even in a group setting, were willing to make themselves quite vulnerable in sharing their reflections about the art. These discussions also left me feeling more exposed than usual in my role as docent/moderator, both in receiving the visitors’ observations, and in leaving my accustomed “neutral” stance regarding the work to express more openly some of my personal responses.

I invite you to read the article and share your responses. For instance,

  • If you saw the Good Friday exhibition, did you experience responses similar to those I describe in the article?
  • Does the idea of approaching art this way leave you feeling ambivalent or even opposed?
  • Could (or should) something like this take place in a “public” art museum?
  • Or do MOCRA’s particular mission and setting on a university campus give us latitude to do things other institutions can’t safely attempt?
  • Given that Good Friday has a clearly Christian point of departure, and that the groups I described were coming from a standpoint of Christian faith, is this sort of exhibition and approach to art transferable to art from other faith traditions?

You might reply to this post, or you can e-mail me through MOCRA’s website. If I receive enough interesting responses, I’ll incorporate them into a future post.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

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

MOCRA Director to deliver 2009 Dillenberger Lecture at GTU

Filed under: Programs and Events — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 5:49 pm

MOCRA’s Director, Rev. Terrence Dempsey, S.J., is honored to deliver the 2009 Dillenberger Lecture at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California, this Thursday, October 22, 2009.

Titled “The Wounded Body of Christ and the Modern Social Conscience,” the 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 Gonzalez Palma, Adrian Kellard, Dinh Q. Le, and James Rosen.

The lecture takes place on Thursday, October 22, 2009. A reception precedes the lecture at 5:00 p.m., followed by the lecture at 6:00 p.m.

It will be held at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU)
Dinner Board Room, Flora Lamson Hewlett Library
2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA

For more information, click here.

May 13, 2009

Bob the Blogger

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday, Staff member commentary — Tags: , , — mocraslu @ 2:33 pm

MOCRA is one of a number of arts organizations located in St. Louis’ Grand Center district. Over the past few years, we’ve been working together with the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and the Sheldon Art Galleries (all in Grand Center), along with the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Kemper Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park, White Flag Projects, and Boots Contemporary Art Space, to promote awareness of and participation in the visual arts community in St. Louis.

One recent result of this collaboration is the Saint Louis Art Map blog. Here’s the current mission statement:

This collaborative blog aims to fill a void in the online art world by becoming a place for information and critical discussion about the non-profit visual fine arts in St. Louis.  Topics are focused on art and institutions with a national and international emphasis, and places them within the local context of St. Louis’ thriving and diverse visual arts community.  Through partnerships with guest bloggers, as well as behind-the-scenes posts from institution curators, directors, staff members, visiting artists, etc., the combination of first-party and third-party sources provides information from a wide range of viewpoints.

In a world where cultural coverage continues to shrink, this collaborative blog hopes to inform visitors – both in and out of town – of our activities and to foster discussion in and about our city.

It’s a work in progress, to be sure–take a look and give us your feedback.

Meanwhile, you can also read a blog post by our Museum Assistant, Bob Sullivan, reflecting on the resonances between the current exhibitions at MOCRA and the Pulitzer. It’s on the Pulitzer’s blog (2Buildings1Blog), which also features posts from the Contemporary.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

March 19, 2009

Wrestling with Veronica’s Veil

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday, Guest blogger — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 5:12 pm

Today we have our first guest blog. Thanks to Courtney Henson, MFA, Visitor Services Manager at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts for this commentary on a work by Daniel Goldstein. (Be sure to check out the PFA’s great blog, along with the blog of the PFA’s next-door-neighbor, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, at 2 Buildings – 1 Blog.

*****

The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky cross-referenced with Icarian XI/Leg Extension by Daniel Goldstein:

After visiting Good Friday at MOCRA, I found attachments to several works — mostly those involving textile media or found objects and at this particular show, mostly dealing with the topic of HIV/AIDS.

A few days later, I found myself confronted with the story of Randy “the Ram” in The Wrestler and thinking back to Icarian XI/ Leg Extension. Between the workout scenes in The Wrestler, Randy’s overly tanned skin and the allusions of him toward Jesus, I kept thinking back to the leather seat because of its original life as an overworked piece of equipment. The seat now transcends that life and has this residue that shows its hard work — the stains of those who used it have become its stigmata.

When contemporary art finds an even more contemporary reference, I feel it proves the power of the work of art. When Randy shows off his scars to his friend, Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei), Cassidy quotes a line from The Passion and draws parallels to Randy as a type of Christ figure. Certainly Randy, with his long blond hair and Jesus tattoo on his lower back, emulates a figure who aims to redeem himself.

from left: Luis González Palma, "El Santo Sudario" (1989); Daniel Goldstein, "Icarian XI/Leg Extension" (1993); Georges Rouault, "By His Stripes We Are Healed," from the series "Miserere et Guerre" (1922)

from left: Luis González Palma, "El Santo Sudario" (1989); Daniel Goldstein, "Icarian XI/Leg Extension" (1993); Georges Rouault, "By His Stripes We Are Healed," from the series "Miserere et Guerre" (1922)

The artwork by Goldstein similarly shows the struggles played out by the human body for the sake of becoming more godlike, at least by contemporary society’s standards. The work is composed of a leather covering for a workout bench, the brand name Icarian. The covering was salvaged from a gym in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood at a pivotal time during the AIDS epidemic. The piece is housed in a shadow box and displayed like a shrine. In this memorial, the leather is deeply scarred from use; years of sweat are seeped into its surface. There are creases and crinkles from where it was wrapped around the bench. The object is powerful in its stains of sweat, alluding to the story of Veronica’s clothIcarian XI/Leg Extension seems to have the faint image of a portrait; as I write this, I find my reflection placed in its outline — reminding me of the importance of placing myself in the shoes of others.

I would entreat you to view two things this week: The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky, and Icarian XI/Leg Extension by Daniel Goldstein at MOCRA.

March 16, 2009

The wall, installed

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday — Tags: , , — mocraslu @ 5:58 pm
Installation view, "Good Friday." MOCRA's nave gallery, looking west

Installation view, "Good Friday." MOCRA's nave gallery, looking west

Foreground: Peter Ambrose, “First Death” (1990)

On wall: Michael David, “Crowning with Thorns” (1985)

Background (partially obscured): Juan González, “Don’t Mourn, Consecrate” (1987); Michael Tracy, “Triptych: 11th, 12th and 13th Stations of the Cross for Latin America — La Pasión”; Ian Friend, “The Protestant Affliction III” (1991/92)

Installation view, "Good Friday." MOCRA's nave gallery, looking east

Installation view, "Good Friday." MOCRA's nave gallery, looking east

On wall: James Rosen, “Homage to the ‘Pietà d’Avignon'” (1989-91); Study for “Homage to the ‘Pietà d’Avignon'”

Background: Peter Ambrose, “First Death” (1990)

December 18, 2008

Georges Rouault: Miserere et Guerre

Georges Rouault, "Obedient Unto Death ...," 1926.

Georges Rouault, "Obedient Unto Death ...," 1926.

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.

Georges Rouault, "This Will Be the Last Time, Father!" 1927.

Georges Rouault, "This Will Be the Last Time, Father!" 1927.

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.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

December 11, 2008

Preconceived Notions

Roughly two years ago, I decided to do a solo gallery walk around Grand Center and other areas of St. Louis. I compiled a list of galleries and museums through a Google search. There was one venue that stood out amongst names such as The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, The Sheldon Art Galleries, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Saint Louis University Museum of Art and Bruno David Gallery. That venue was MOCRA, the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art.

Outward Movement, 1948. Oil on canvas.

Oskar Fischinger, "Outward Movement," 1948. Oil on canvas. © and Collection of Fischinger Trust.

I was worried about what I would see in a museum of strictly contemporary religious art. Visions of Werner Sallman’s Head of Christ almost prevented me from walking through those doors, but, as a student of art, I decided it was in my best interest to venture into uncomfortable territory.

The exhibition on display was Oskar Fischinger: Movement and Spirit. As I made my way through the side chapels turned galleries, a calmness took over. The museum had low light levels and was quiet… it sounded like an empty church (MOCRA is housed in a building that was once a chapel). There was a meditative presence in Fischinger’s technique… you could see that each line was painted one at a time with a steady hand. It was clear to me the man who painted these works was patient and deliberate.

In particular, the painting Outward Movement struck me as a tremendous example of Fischinger’s technique. There must be hundreds of gridded squares made with thousands of individual lines. They are placed one on top of the other and give a true illusion of outward movement from the center of the canvas. Fischinger used no stamps or silkscreen techniques when creating this work. He placed each line in position with a brush… one at a time… carefully spaced… producing a painting that captures your attention.

The connection of that exhibit to MOCRA’s mission was not obvious, but it was there. The act of creating paintings for Oskar Fischinger was a form of meditation, which is a common practice in most religions. And, because the religious connection was not “in my face,” I walked away with a better understanding of the spiritual as MOCRA presents it to its visitors. It is not sentimental. It is not aggressive. It is not obvious. It is something else entirely.

–Bob Sullivan, Museum Assistant

[According to the Fischinger Trust, Fischinger’s original title for Outward Movement was Manhattan.]

December 9, 2008

“Pursuit of the Spirit” reviewed; questions raised

MOCRA’s fifteenth-anniversary exhibition Pursuit of the Spirit was featured in the Sunday, December 7, 2008 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reviewer David Bonetti praises MOCRA’s “vigorous program” and highlights a number of works in the exhibition. At the same time, he voices some common questions and objections about what MOCRA aims at in presenting contemporary art that engages the religious and spiritual dimensions. For instance, how does one identify the “spiritual” in art if a traditional iconography is lacking?

We invite you to read Mr. Bonetti’s review and then share your own thoughts about the questions he poses. Have you visited MOCRA to see Pursuit of the Spirit? How does your experience compare with his?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Read David Bonetti’s review of Pursuit of the Spirit.

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