Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

November 10, 2011

Adrian Kellard: Marking 20 Years

November 14, 2011, is the twentieth anniversary of artist Adrian Kellard’s death. This significant date, along with the 30-year anniversary of the identification of HIV as the virus that causes AIDS, was in our consciousness as we planned the exhibition Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion.

One way to mark an anniversary is to share memories and stories of the deceased. Recently MOCRA’s Director, Terrence Dempsey, S.J., was joined by Kellard’s dear friend Regina DeLuise and his gallery dealer, Susan Schreiber, to look back at the artist’s life and legacy. All three knew him well, and the ensuing conversation elicited stories both humorous and poignant. This conversation was recorded and is available to the public through the MOCRA Voices podcast. You can stream or download the audio from the MOCRA website, or if you like, subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.

However, in a sense Kellard’s story continues to unfold as new audiences discover his work through the MOCRA exhibition. One of Kellard’s sisters attended the opening in September and brought with her a small journal that served as the guest book for the last exhibition prior to his death, in October 1991. She asked if we might make the book available to our visitors as well.

Guest book for Adrian Kellard exhibition.

Guest book for Adrian Kellard exhibition.

Glancing through the book, I’m struck by one of the last entries from 1991, written by Jed Devine, who organized that exhibition:

Adrian–

Thank you for the most powerful and beautiful show we have had in this space. You are magnificent.

It is followed on the next page by the first entry from 2011:

This is truly one of the best exhibits MOCRA has done. … Truly REMARKABLE!!!

His work seems to elicit comments from deep places in many visitors. Here are a few excerpts from the past month-and-a-half:

Thank you for loaning me your eyes through your art — you have refreshed me and renewed my faith and spirituality. Your death has been transformed into gift that allows me to draw close and be instructed by your heart.

*****

Wonderfully evocative and sensually intelligent reflections of faith and identity. The dimensions of shape and use of color really make my heart sing and inspire deep reflections.

*****

The works of God have been made manifest in you, Adrian. Thank you for opening your life and faith to the world through such compassion, beauty, and truth.

We invite you to come and see the exhibition, and if you are so moved, to add your own words to this small testament to the impact of one artist whose work is a manifestation of a life lived with remarkable integrity, focus, creativity, and compassion. In the words of another visitor:

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

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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 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 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

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.

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

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.

March 17, 2009

We’ve been busy: Part 2

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.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

December 17, 2008

Taking a breather

Filed under: Exhibitions, Pursuit of the Spirit — Tags: , , , — mocraslu @ 12:36 pm

Pursuit of the Spirit, the first of MOCRA’s two fifteenth-anniversary exhibitions, closed on Sunday. Now for a couple of weeks of decompression and holiday break before installing the second anniversary show, Good Friday, scheduled to open on February 8, 2009.

Pursuit of the Spirit had good attendance and positive feedback from those who visited. Among my personal metrics for gauging the success of an exhibition are the amount of time visitors spend in the museum, and the amount of time they spend with individual works. On both counts, this exhibition scored high marks.

I don’t have the opportunity to talk with individual visitors as much as I would like, to find out how they have responded to particular works or to the exhibition overall. When I do, invariably I receive a new insight into works that I thought I knew pretty well.

So it’s great to discover that at least one visitor has blogged about his experience at the exhibition. Read what Chris King has to say about Seyed Alavi’s Noli me tangere.

You can also read Chris’ ruminations on the Pursuit of the Spirit opening reception, replete with sketch of MOCRA’s Director, Terrence Dempsey, S.J.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

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