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.
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.
It seems that every time I post I’m explaining the infrequency of our updates. But I’m pleased to say it’s just because we have been so busy.
The “Art and the Religious Imagination” conference was well received. Pamela Ambrose and Gerald Bolas gave distinct but complementary reflections on the way art museums can present the religious art in their collections in innovative ways. Charles Bouchard used the works in Good Friday to examine theological thought on the question of human suffering. (Sadly, Kevin Burke had to cancel due to a family emergency, but we anticipate inviting him back next spring.) A dynamic question-and-answer session followed, with some excellent insights from audience members.
A few pictures are included below, and we’ll try to have summaries of the talks available soon.
In the meantime, we are preparing for Good Friday on Good Friday. MOCRA’s Easter weekend hours are:
Friday, April 10, 2009 (Good Friday)
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m
Sunday, April 12, 2009 (Easter)
To our readers observing Pesach or Holy Week, we wish you a season of peace and holiness.
In addition to preparing our “Reflecting on Good Friday” booklet, we’ve been assembling a conference, to be held on March 29, 2009. Titled “Art and the Religious Imagination,” it will feature a panel of distinguished museum directors and theologians discussing the roles that secular and religious art museums can play in the presentation of art with spiritual and religious content. Panelists will also explore how spiritual and religious art has the potential to invite viewers into a deeper interior journey.
You can find a list of the panelists and the titles of their talks on the MOCRA website.
I’m hopeful that some of the concerns I mentioned in my previous post about the booklet will be considered during the discussion. For instance, how does an institution produce reflection materials that have a chance of speaking to a broad range of visitors? Can such materials cross the borders between different faiths, or even different spiritualities within one tradition? How are specificity and universality balanced in such materials?
If you will be in St. Louis on March 29, please join us from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. and add your voice to the proceedings.
Yesterday we looked briefly at how MOCRA came to be. Today we continue the story with some of the surprises that come with renovating an older building, and the encouraging response to a pre-opening conference.
Several months prior to MOCRA’s official opening in February 1993, St. Louis Post-Dispatch cultural news editor Robert W. Duffy reported on the “race to finish” the gallery prior to a November 7, 1992 meeting of the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture (ARC) to be hosted in the new museum.
Construction had begun in the spring of 1992, and with the target of a completion date of early September 1992, everything seemed on track for the November 7 opening conference with plenty of time to install the art. Then, in late August, asbestos was discovered in much of the museum’s ceiling, and all construction stopped until it was removed and a new ceiling installed. To describe the abatement process as messy would be a severe understatement. By the time the project was completed the museum had a new ceiling and new drywall around its whole circumference.
Undaunted, Fr. Dempsey and the small MOCRA staff turned their energies to the ARC conference. The last of the scaffolding was removed on November 4, and the entire inaugural exhibition (which was to be previewed at the conference) had to be installed in two days. On top of that, there was an overlap between the installation completion and the arrival of the artists, speakers, and guests for the conference. Adrenaline and frayed nerves were in evidence—but it happened, and the museum was ready for the conference.
The program, titled The Artist and Sacred Space, featured lectures and reflections from a number of distinguished speakers (titles and institutions are given as at the time of the conference):
Dr. Jane Daggett Dillenberger
(Professor of Art History, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA)
Dr. John Renard
(Professor of Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO)
Rev. Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J.
(Founding Director of MOCRA and Assistant Professor of Art History, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO)
(Professor of Art History, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA)
(Watson-Ledden Professor of Religion, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY)
Rev. Maurice B. McNamee, S.J.
(Professor Emeritus and Founding Director of Samuel Cupples House, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO)
These presentations were followed by a panel of 12 artists participating in MOCRA’s inaugural exhibition:
Seyed Alavi (Oakland, CA)
Charlotte Lichtblau (New York, NY)
Lita Albuquerque (Los Angeles, CA)
Stephen Luecking (Chicago, IL)
Craig Antrim (Los Angeles, CA)
Bernard Maisner (New York, NY)
Frederick J. Brown (New York, NY)
James Rosen (Augusta, GA)
Eleanor Dickinson (San Francisco, CA)
Thomas Skomski (Chicago, IL)
Tobi Kahn (New York, NY)
Daniel Ramirez (Madison, WI)
The artists and the audience engaged in an animated conversation on why many of today’s artists were addressing the religious and spiritual dimensions in their work.
The conference and its discussions reflected the excitement among the participants about the imminent launching of MOCRA. Artist Eleanor Dickinson remarked, “Art of the spirit and the soul is not very saleable. This museum is something we’ve needed for a long time to counter the excessive commercialization of art.” Over 120 people from across the country—St. Louis, New York, Washington, Chicago, Syracuse, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston—attended the conference, including about 30 members of ARC.
After the excitement of the conference had subsided, it was now time to attend to the final preparations for MOCRA’s grand opening.