Religion is heavily present in every medieval and Renaissance art museum collection, and curators are constantly organizing exhibitions that highlight this fact. To a smaller extent, religion is also present in contemporary art, and my appreciation goes out to those institutions that have picked up on this and have chosen to mount shows with religion up front and center. Here’s a list of just some such exhibitions currently running that have crossed my radar. (Follow the links to view more images.)
“Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Embroidery,” Victoria and Albert Museum, London, October 1, 2016–February 5, 2017: In medieval Europe, embroidered textiles were indispensable symbols of wealth and power. Owing to their quality, complexity, and magnificence, English embroideries (referred to as opus Anglicanum, “English work”) enjoyed international demand among kings, queens, popes, and cardinals, and here one hundred of them are brought together. Treasures include the Butler-Bowdon Cope, the Syon Cope, and the Tree of Jesse Cope—ceremonial cloaks made for use in church services and processions, featuring images from the lives of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints. (I love the interactive zoom function on these! To help you navigate the densely packed imagery, details of interest are tagged and can be clicked on to magnify and to reveal a textbox of information.) Hear contemporary embroiderer James Merry discuss some of the aspects of their technique and design that blow him away:
“Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, September 26, 2016–January 8, 2017: “This landmark exhibition demonstrates the key role that the Holy City played in shaping the art of the period from 1000 to 1400. In these centuries, Jerusalem was home to more cultures, religions, and languages than ever before. Through times of peace as well as war, Jerusalem remained a constant source of inspiration that resulted in art of great beauty and fascinating complexity. This exhibition is the first to unravel the various cultural traditions and aesthetic strands that enriched and enlivened the medieval city. It features some 200 works of art from 60 lenders worldwide.” I especially love the four Gospels in Arabic borrowed from the British Library, whose geometric illuminations bear an obvious Islamic influence.
“The Shimmer of Gold: Giovanni di Paolo in Renaissance Siena,” Getty Center, Los Angeles, October 11, 2016–January 8, 2017: “Manuscript illuminator and panel painter Giovanni di Paolo was one of the most distinctive and imaginative artists working in Siena, Italy, during the Renaissance. This exhibition reunites several panels from one of his most important commissions—an altarpiece for the Branchini family chapel in the church of San Domenico in Siena—for the first time since its dispersal, and presents illuminated manuscripts and paintings by Giovanni and his close collaborators and contemporaries. Through recent technical findings, the exhibition reveals his creative use of gold and paint to achieve remarkable luminous effects in both media.”
“The Key” (organized by Caravan), Riverside Church, New York City, September 21–November 6, 2016: Founded by US Episcopal priest Paul-Gordon Chandler, Caravan develops initiatives that use art as a bridge for intercultural and interreligious dialogue. The organization’s 2016 exhibition is in the last leg of its Cairo-London-New York journey. It showcases the work of forty Middle Eastern and Western artists from different monotheistic faith backgrounds, each of whom was given a four-foot-tall fiberglass ankh to develop into a work of art. Known as the “Key of Life,” the ankh is an ancient hieroglyph originating in Egypt but spreading throughout Asia Minor; today it is used as a symbol of pluralism, tolerance, and harmony. I especially like the ones by Sergio Gomez, Arabella Dorman, Fatma Abdel Rahman, and Isaac Daniel.
“Incarnation, Mary & Women from the Bible,” Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, England, October 12–November 6, 2016: Having already stopped at Guildford, Norwich, Chichester, Durham, and Hereford Cathedrals, Chris Gollon’s latest series of paintings on women of the Bible is now at Romsey Abbey. It includes the standards, like Eve, Rachel, Hannah, Delilah, Bathsheba, the two Marys (the Virgin, and Magdalene), and Salome, as well as some unnamed and even implied women, like Judas’s wife. It also includes some extrabiblical female saints, like Lucy, Cecilia, Julian of Norwich, and Ethelflaeda. I’m really attracted to the sad quality of many of Gollon’s women, and to the emphasis on hands (much like Eduardo Kingman!).
“Medium: Religion,” Gallery of Art and Design, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, Missouri, September 22–October 28, 2016: This exhibition—“meant to inspire, contemplate, and strengthen faith”—features seven contemporary artists whose work engages religion: Tobi Kahn, who creates Jewish ceremonial art like etrog containers, shalom bat chairs, and omer counters; Chris Clack, whose work explores the relationship between Christianity and science; Kysa Johnson, whose Immaculate Conception series links images of the Virgin with asexually reproducing yeast and bacteria; Justine Kuran, known for her quilled hamsas (palm-shaped amulets); Scott Freeman, whose The Wall Remaining laments the long-suffered disunity between Jews and Christians; Tashi Norbu, trained in the art of traditional Tibetan Buddhist thangka painting; and Raudel Arteaga, who deconstructs famous religious paintings into their geometric basics.
“Illuminations: Works by Vanessa German, Peter Oresick, and Christopher Ruane,” Carlow University Art Gallery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 8–December 9, 2016: “‘Illuminations’ features the work of three local artists who evoke the traditions of icon painting or biblical parables to bring out focus on the overlooked and to cast light into the shadows of our present day,” says gallery director Sylvia Rhor. Works include responses to last year’s Charleston church shootings, literary figures painted in the style of Russian icons, and sacred stories updated through the use of photography and digital technology.