Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

September 27, 2012

New MOCRA exhibition features Irish painter Patrick Graham

MOCRA’s latest exhibition opened this past Sunday. Patrick Graham: Thirty Years – The Silence Becomes the Painting offers a survey of work by Patrick Graham, frequently cited as Ireland’s most important contemporary artist. Through paintings, collages, and drawings, this retrospective curated by distinguished art historian Peter Selz offers an extraordinary view of the continuum that marks Graham’s psychologically charged explorations into revelation and transcendence.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

There is no doubt that this is work that challenges viewers. As we note in the text accompanying the exhibition,  Graham’s art may be hard to like, but it is impossible to disrespect it. Patrick Graham has been credited by critics and art historians with changing the face of painting in Ireland. Art historian, writer and curator Peter Selz, who curated this exhibition, says that Graham “confronts the viewer with drawings and paintings of shattering force … [he] makes us aware that great painting has a presence and a future.”

Graham is a thoughtful and articulate man, as interviews with him make clear. His own words provide the title to the exhibition. He muses, “The silence becomes the painting, the painting comes from silence. It is the moment when painting is no longer an act of doing or making but of receiving.”

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

Graham’s inspiration is deeply rooted in the Irish landscape, in vistas and places that hold deep meaning for him. The Irish affinity for nature, combined with profound experience of the pain which comes from both oppression and repression, has led to extraordinary artistic expressions in poetry, music, and dance. This cultural and artistic milieu formed Graham’s visual expression. His work incorporates ambiguous symbolic forms and scripted phrases that resonate like fragments of traditional song and lyrical poetry which spring from a unique historical consciousness; through them he explores the elemental processes of life and the existential journey. Among the realities he acknowledges in a sensitive voice is the Irish religious experience, particularly of the Catholic faith, yet his work has universal appeal to those who struggle with issues of identity, freedom, or faith.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 - December 16, 2012.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years, at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA), Saint Louis University, September 23 – December 16, 2012.

Patrick Graham is widely regarded as Ireland’s most important contemporary artist, and has been recognized by Ireland as a “living national treasure” through his induction into Aosdána (a society that honors outstanding work in the arts) since 1986. Graham was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland in 1943, and studied at the National College of Art in Dublin. He has exhibited in Ireland and internationally since 1966, and is represented in major public and private collections at home and abroad. Graham’s work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and symposia internationally, at venues including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Trinity College Dublin, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, the Hokkaido Museum in Hokkaido, Japan, the University of Michigan, Northeastern University in Boston, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Patrick Graham: Thirty Years – The Silence Becomes the Painting was organized by Meridian Gallery/Society for Art Publications with the support of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts in Los Angeles, international agent for Patrick Graham. The exhibition at MOCRA follows showings in San Francisco at the Meridian Gallery of the Society for Art Publications of the Americas and in Washington, D.C., at the Katzen Arts Center of American University. The exhibition is supported by Culture Ireland, the Irish national body for the promotion of Irish arts worldwide.

The exhibition will be on display at MOCRA through December 16, 2012. Learn more here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director


October 6, 2010

Now, where to hang this one?

Curating an exhibition involves many decisions, major and minor, no matter what the work or the venue. MOCRA’s space presents particular challenges but also some intriguing possibilities. Allow me to share a few notes from the planning and installation of our current exhibition, James Rosen: The Artist and the Capable Observer.

In this case, we had a superabundance of materials from which to choose, as MOCRA has on long-term loan or in its collection a significant body of works by Rosen. The majority are works on paper, including numerous sketches and studies. With nary a false note in the mix, we sought to identify a modest number that would demonstrate succinctly the qualities of Rosen’s work we wanted to highlight: the confidence and fluidity of his line in drawings, the subtlety of his watercolors and gouaches, his analysis of old master works for composition and form, and the occasional wry, playful image amidst more “serious” work.

Beyond the works on paper, we selected from a number of paintings, some quite intimate in scale, one an 8-foot tall canvas. Early on we  made a decision to draw primarily on works in our collection or on long-term loan, to be supplemented by a few select works borrowed from collectors or other institutions. This decision helped frame the exhibition, not as a comprehensive retrospective, but as a generous survey of Rosen’s six-decade career.

A natural approach to this material would be a chronological presentation, but here we ran up against the challenges of MOCRA’s configuration, with its twelve intimate side chapel galleries and soaring nave gallery (see these earlier posts for some discussion of repurposing a 1950s chapel as a museum space). Smaller works are best served by the side chapels, and of necessity the large works have to be placed in the nave gallery. Furthermore, visitors may begin by heading down the south side aisle, or find themselves drawn into the nave gallery, so although we can try to encourage a particular pathway, we can’t ensure that visitors will travel the way we want them to.


Looking into MOCRA's James Rosen exhibition from the entrance to the gallery

A visitor looking into MOCRA's James Rosen exhibition from the entrance to the gallery can head either into the main gallery, or down the side aisle.


We did an initial layout of the smaller works along chronological lines, but soon saw that we wouldn’t be able to carry that approach through consistently. Instead, we began to think in terms of theme or subject matter, with chronology and medium as secondary criteria. With this approach, things quickly began to shape up in the side chapels along the categories of Figuration and Portraiture; Architecture; and, Landscape and Abstraction. The limitations of space helped us further refine the selection of works, and the introduction of wall cases for the unframed works helped to anchor the arrangement of framed works.

Meanwhile, we had the larger works to consider. From early on, MOCRA’s Director, Terrence Dempsey, S.J., knew that he wanted to present six “Saints” paintingsl from Rosen’s two-year sojourn in Ferrara, Italy, together in one half of the nave gallery, along with the monumental Homage to Guido da Siena: La Maestà. His hope was to create a meditative space that would invite visitors to slow down and experience the subtle luminosity of Rosen’s work, to allow the work time to reveal itself. A generous number of chairs reinforces this invitation.


The paintings of James Rosen in MOCRA's nave gallery.

The eastern half of MOCRA's nave gallery displays six of Rosen's "Saints" paintings flanking an homage to Guido da Siena's "La Maestà."


The other half of the gallery would display the Homage to the Isenheim Altarpiece and the Homage to the Pietà d’Avignon. Unfortunately, that left one large wall unaccounted for: how to balance out two major works? The solution was a combination of a wall case with three small portraits above it, and flanked by two medium-sized paintings, all on religious subjects.


The paintings of James Rosen in MOCRA's nave gallery.

Two major paintings by James Rosen, along with several smaller paintings and various works on paper, are installed in the western half of MOCRA's nave gallery.


One of the side chapel galleries on each side faces a gap in the long nave walls, so any work in that gallery can be seen from a relatively distant vantage point across the nave. Normally we place visually commanding works in those chapels, works that might seem confined in the other side chapels. In this case, we saw a way to link the side chapels with the nave. We placed works relating to Rosen’s time in Ferrara in the side chapel, including his images of an old monastery called the Certosa. Thus, with the help of the labels and wall texts, visitors can look out from the chapel at the Saints paintings produced during that time, while the wall case in the nave contains studies and drawings produced during the time in Ferrara.


Looking from MOCRA's nave gallery into a side chapel.

A view from MOCRA's nave gallery into the side chapel containing works related to James Rosen's stay in Ferrara, Italy.



Looking out into MOCRA's nave gallery from the south side aisle.

The complementary view from the side chapel into the nave gallery.


Speaking of texts, throughout the process of selecting and placing works, we were also considering what sort of labeling and didactic texts would be used. How much should be made explicit in terms of “categories”? How could we give visitors sufficient context and bearings, without overwhelming them or the artwork with text? Fortunately, Rosen is articulate in discussing his process and aims, and we looked for opportunities whenever possible to let him tell his own story.


James Rosen's work installed in MOCRA's south side aisle

Art, wall cases, text panels, and lighting combine to present James Rosen's work to MOCRA's visitors. Rosen's own words play a prominent role in setting context and conveying background information.


The final stage in the installation process is the lighting — never a simple matter with 28-foot ceilings, and a particular challenge with Rosen’s favored oil and wax/oil emulsion medium. Our initial lighting scheme was very subdued, especially in the nave gallery. One of our student workers remarked that it was so dim he was afraid he would doze off during his shift! The light also gave a color cast to paintings at those low levels, even though it tends to bring out subtleties of detail. There was also the safety of our visitors (avoiding trip hazards) to consider. So, the lights came up a few notches, and we hope we have struck a good balance that shows the work to its best advantage.

Each exhibition tells a story; sometimes it is one consciously framed by the curators, sometimes it is implicit. We hope that with The Artist and the Capable Observer we have been able to highlight several chapters from James Rosen’s long, varied, and productive career, allowing the artist himself to draw our attention to both the significant and the subtle.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

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

October 22, 2009

The not-so-big dig

Filed under: Staff member commentary — Tags: , — mocraslu @ 6:17 pm

When your museum is part of a university, you occasionally encounter matters beyond your control that nonetheless have an impact on your life. Consider, for example, the case of MOCRA’s front lawn, a courtyard shared with the rest of the Fusz Memorial building. Several weeks ago, we noticed that a section of the lawn was not draining as well as usual. In fact, it was coming to look alarmingly like a wetlands, and was becoming quite popular with the campus bird and squirrel population.

After some intramural attempts at remedying the situation failed to dry things out, our facilities crew called in some reinforcements. I looked out MOCRA’s lobby doors on Monday morning to see …

Backhoe at MOCRA's door.

... a backhoe at MOCRA's door.

I popped outside, camera in hand, to document the proceedings.

No, MOCRA is not under renovation.

No, MOCRA is not under renovation.

The suspected culprit was a water line feeding from a city main that runs down the campus mall. First, a precautionary shut-off of the water to the building.

Don't you hate it when you drop your keys?

Don't you hate it when you drop your keys?

Then the digging began. Early estimates were that they might have to go down as far as 18 feet to find the pipe, which would result in a terraced series of cuts into the lawn.

The first cut, contrary to popular song, is not the deepest.

The first cut, contrary to popular song, is not the deepest.

It was starting to act like quick-mud. I watched a worker from the grounds crew sink in up to his knee a few days prior to the dig.

It was starting to act like quick-mud. I watched a worker from the grounds crew sink in up to his knee a few days prior to the dig.

Still haven't found those keys.

Still haven't found those keys.

Fortunately for all concerned, the pipe was encountered less than 7 feet down. Even at that depth, the crew had already had to cut through some stubborn Missouri clay.

Wait, there they are!

Wait, there they are!

The pipe indeed had a break in it. In short order they replaced that section and filled everything back in.

Almost as if they were never there ... almost.

Almost as if they were never there ... almost.

Now we wait to see if the problem is solved or if there are additional cracks in the pipe. Our thanks to the grounds and facilities crews, and to the contractors, for their efforts to rectify the situation. Although we’ll miss the spectacle of squirrels floating in the puddles with their water wings, we’ll be glad to look out our door onto good solid (and dry) ground.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

September 4, 2009

A cool new obsession

Filed under: Staff member commentary — Tags: , , — mocraslu @ 5:39 pm

Our appreciation for MOCRA’s erstwhile fridge is growing:

  • Solidarity: We’re not the only ones who neglected to defrost the freezer compartment.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Farewell to the Frigidaire

Filed under: Staff member commentary, Thoughts and Ideas — Tags: , , — mocraslu @ 5:24 pm

An essential element of MOCRA’s personality as a museum is the building itself. It began its existence in 1954 as a chapel, part of the Fusz Memorial complex  that included dormitories and dining facilities for Jesuits studying philosophy at Saint Louis University.

By 1990, the Jesuits had relocated to a different building nearby, and the University acquired the Fusz Memorial. The dorms and dining hall were quickly repurposed for student housing, but the chapel remained vacant until University President Rev. Lawrence Biondi, S.J., accepted Rev. Terrence Dempsey, S.J.’s  proposal to use the space for a museum of contemporary interfaith art.  The transformation of Fusz Chapel into MOCRA was soon underway.

Fusz Chapel prior to the MOCRA renovation.

Fusz Chapel prior to the MOCRA renovation.

Installation view, Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art, at MOCRA, 1993.

Installation view, Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art, at MOCRA, 1993.

Much about the chapel has changed over the years, but for MOCRA’s first fifteen years there has been one constant anchor to the building’s history:

The venerable Fusz Chapel Frigidaire refrigerator.

The venerable Fusz Chapel Frigidaire refrigerator

We don’t know exactly when this General Motors Frigidaire was installed in the chapel sacristy. It’s quite likely that is was chugging away for over fifty years without complaint. (Although, we might have neglected to defrost the freezer compartment as frequently as we should have — the frost free models apparently did not show up until 1958).

The GM Frigidaire crest

The GM Frigidaire crest

A cursory glance at the history of the Frigidaire refrigerator is enough to set one thinking about the way that technological innovation and the forces of consumerism carry us from a product that meets a basic need (preventing food spoilage) in a rudimentary fashion, to the sleek, convenience-encrusted appliances of today.

Recently we gave in to the inexorable press of progress. Last week the venerable GM Frigidaire was defrosted for the last time and its plug pulled (likely the first time that has happened since it was first put into service). Its place has been taken by a new Frigidaire, one that is more energy and space efficient and several decibels quieter — yet rather generic in its lines.

The new Frigidaire

The new Frigidaire

The new Frigidaire crest, though it strives to evoke a retro space-age feel, loses any panache when expressed in plastic.

The new Frigidaire crest

The new Frigidaire crest

So we bid a fond farewell to our old Frigidaire as we begin stocking the new one (and enjoying the luxury of frost-free living). It’s another little mile marker as we continue into our sixteenth year at MOCRA. It’s also a prompt to pause and remember all who, like that old refrigerator, have labored reliably and consistently, often underappreciated, over the years.

For all who work to fulfill society’s basic needs, and do so with quiet determination, we say thank you. And to all who live with uncertainty in this patch of economic quicksand, we offer support and hope.

Happy Labor Day. May you and yours have a restful holiday. We hope to see you on September 13 for Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears.

— 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

August 25, 2009

Updated MOCRA website

Filed under: Programs and Events — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 6:37 pm

Several of our summer projects at MOCRA have focused on internal improvements — behind-the-scenes tweaks and improvements that visitors won’t ever see directly, but hopefully will result in better exhibitions and better service to our visitors.

One of our projects, however, is one that we hope many visitors will experience directly. We’ve launched an updated and expanded MOCRA website.


Among the notable features are improved navigation (including a left-hand menu bar and cookie trails); more robust visitor information; and an expanded selection of related links and resources.

It won’t win any Webbys, to be sure, but we hope visitors will find it to be a welcoming and useful site. It is a work in progress, so please send us your feedback…do you have suggestions on the organization and layout of the site? Any broken links we need to fix? Related links to recommend? Let us know!

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

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

April 24, 2009

Good Friday exhibition extended

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday — Tags: , , — mocraslu @ 4:54 pm

In response to numerous requests from visitors, MOCRA has extended the exhibition Good Friday through May 17, 2009.

MOCRA’s hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don’t miss this additional opportunity to experience one of MOCRA’s most popular shows ever!

More info about the exhibition is available here.

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