Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

January 5, 2011

The art of dying

Artist Tobi Kahn, who has a long association with MOCRA (including the exhibitions Metamorphoses and Avoda: Objects of the Spirit) , was featured in a recent New York Times article on the role art can play in the dying process. (Read the article here.) As he relates in the article, Kahn found that through his artwork he was able to provide a measure of solace to his mother as she lay in the hospital during her final days. From that experience, Kahn was inspired to consult with clergy members, hospice workers and funeral directors about what qualities in art would be comforting to people who are dying.

Expressing through his work both the pain of suffering and the hope for healing is not new ground for Kahn, who has completed a number of commissions for hospices, hospitals and memorial chapels, along with several Holocaust memorials. And, as MOCRA has demonstrated amply in exhibitions such as Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS, The Greater Good: An Artist’s Contemporary View of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Robert Farber: A Retrospective, 1985-1995, Junko Chodos: The Breath of Consciousness, Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art, Georges Rouault: Miserere et Guerre, and Lewis deSoto: Paranirvana, numerous contemporary artists confront the reality of suffering and death in their work.

MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., was interviewed for the New York Times article. He remarks, “One of the common bonds across traditions is the human concern with suffering, love, mortality, immortality. The role of religious art at the end of life is that it helps us focus on what’s really important–an interior healing, even if there is no physical healing, and finally a sense of gratitude.”

I am struck, though, that Kahn is creating art for this privileged point in people’s lives with a measure of intentionality. While many (if not most) health care facilities select art that will be soothing to its patients, and even commission specific works of art and even sculpture gardens or meditation rooms, I wonder how often that art is considered from the perspective of those who know that death is near, that there is no further physical healing to be expected. How can art contribute to palliative care? How can it complement the services of chaplains and hospice workers in accompanying people as they approach the end of life?

Samuel Freedman, the author of the article, suggests that Kahn’s works “subscribe at least loosely to the Judaic concept of ‘hiddur mitzvah,’ sanctifying something (a commandment, if one is literal) by beautifying it.” Amidst all the trappings of current American healthcare–cutting edge technology, powerful pharmaceuticals, agonizing contention over how to pay for treatments–can all parties in their own ways help to beautify, and thereby sanctify, the process of dying?

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

April 7, 2010

The long Good Friday

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday (2010) — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 5:33 pm

MOCRA is extending the exhibition Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art through May 16, 2010.

Now, this may strike the liturgically inclined as a bit of a disconnect, since we are now into the Easter season. What sense is there in stretching out an exhibition that focuses so squarely on the events of the Passion?

While the works in Good Friday focus on themes such as suffering, injustice, and death, they also explore complementary themes of healing, redemption, and renewal. In other words, the experience of Easter is implicit in all of these works, and even explicitly hinted at in several of them, such as this painting by Nick Boskovich titled Emmaus: Rose of the Passion (Requiem for Caravaggio):

Nick Boskovich, Emmaus: Rose of the Passion

Nick Boskovich, "Emmaus: Rose of the Passion (Requiem for Caravaggio)", 2007.

So, although at first blush it may seem jarring to come see a show titled Good Friday during the Easter season, we believe that the works in the show offer important perspectives on the deeper meaning of suffering and redemption.

Furthermore, one of the most-commented upon aspects of this exhibition is the invitation it offers to visitors to allow the works to become gateways to contemplation, meditation, and even prayer. Close to 100 visitors made the exhibition part of their Good Friday observance last week. As a former chapel, MOCRA’s architecture itself fosters an atmosphere of calm and reflection. We don’t believe the practice of this sort of reflection with art is bound by time or season.

Now you have a couple more weeks to explore this rich exhibition for yourself. Find out more about Good Friday here.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

March 26, 2010

MOCRA Director speaks on “The Wounded Body of Christ”

Filed under: Exhibitions, Good Friday (2010), Programs and Events — Tags: , — mocraslu @ 5:00 pm

This Sunday, March 28, 2010, MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J. will deliver a free public lecture titled, “The Wounded Body of Christ and the Modern Social Conscience.”

Fr. Dempsey’s 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 González Palma, Adrian Kellard, Dinh Q. Le, and James Rosen.

Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., is a Jesuit priest and the Founding Director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA). He holds a Ph.D. in art history and religion from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in conjunction with the University of California at Berkeley, while studying under the direction of Jane Daggett Dillenberger and the late John Dillenberger of the Graduate Theological Union and Peter Selz of the University of California. In 1995, Fr. Dempsey was named the first holder of the May O’Rourke Jay Endowed Teaching Chair in Art History and Religion at Saint Louis University, a position he still holds. He has curated over fifty-five exhibitions, including thirty-six exhibitions for MOCRA. These exhibitions have received significant critical acclaim and positive public response. Fr. Dempsey is also the author of numerous articles and a frequent lecturer.

The lecture begins at 2 p.m. Admission is free. A reception will follow the lecture, and include the opportunity to see the exhibition, Good Friday: The Suffering Christ in Contemporary Art, on display through April 25, 2010.

Learn more about the lecture here.

— 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

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

Meaning.

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

Meaning.

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

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.

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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