I will be going on vacation soon and will be mostly unplugged, so you will notice less frequent blog posts for a few weeks. I’ll cue up some Artful Devotions to be published automatically each Tuesday I’m gone but won’t be posting the links to the blog’s Twitter and Facebook pages as I usually do—so be sure to check the site instead! (Or subscribe by email by clicking the “Follow” link, located in the sidebar if viewing from your computer or at the bottom if viewing from your phone.) My regular publishing schedule will resume in September.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND: “Discovery of Jewish Mosaics in Israel Bring Color to Biblical Accounts” by Sarah E. Bond: “At the ancient site of Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee in modern Israel, a number of stunning mosaics depicting biblical, astrological, and historical narratives have been uncovered in a Jewish village that flourished during the late Roman empire. The colorful and large number of mosaics found in a synagogue challenge traditional views about Jewish art of the period as symbolic rather than representational of biblical texts, bland, and in decline during the period.”
SONGWRITING CONTEST: “In an effort to encourage Psalm-singing, Church of the Servant [in Grand Rapids, Michigan] invites congregational songwriters to submit a Psalm-based song to its 2018 COS New Psalm Contest. The winner will receive a $500 award. There is no entry fee and the contest is open to all. Submissions must be emailed or postmarked by October 1, 2018. The song will be premiered in worship on January 27, 2019. Church of the Servant is a Christian Reformed Church with a rich history of encouraging the arts in worship. Its worship is Reformed, liturgical, participatory, eclectic, and open to creative new worship expressions.” Continue reading “Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more”→
ACQUISITION: Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Artemisia Gentileschi, National Gallery, London: This month the National Gallery in London announced its acquisition of a self-portrait by Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi posed as the fourth-century Christian martyr Catherine of Alexandria. For centuries it has been in the private collection of a French family, hidden from public view; now it is undergoing restoration and framing before being permanently hung in 2019 alongside other Baroque masters like Caravaggio.
Gentileschi is best known for her dramatic paintings of strong female heroines, biblical and extrabiblical, and this painting is no exception. In her left hand she holds a spiked wheel, a torture device used on St. Catherine, and in the right she holds a palm branch, symbol of victory through martyrdom. The painting has biographical resonance, as just a few years earlier, when she was eighteen, Gentileschi was raped by one of her father’s artist colleagues, Agostino Tassi. During the highly publicized trial in 1612, she was subjected to a thumbscrew-like torture called the sibille to test the veracity of her testimony. Although Tassi was convicted, his sentence of five years of exile from Rome was not enforced, and he continued painting frescoes for Pope Paul V. To learn more about the challenges and successes Gentileschi faced as a female artist in the seventeenth century, see Jonathan Jones’s recent Guardian article.
ACQUISITION: Rothschild Pentateuch, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles: “This is the most spectacular medieval Hebrew manuscript that’s come to market in over a century,” says Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts of the Rothschild Pentateuch, a thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript that the museum acquired last month—its first Jewish manuscript, consisting of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The extent and vibrancy of the illuminations, which feature fantastical beasts, humanoid figures, temple accoutrements, and foliate designs, set the manuscript apart from other Jewish Bibles, which are typically image-lite. Starting next month, the Rothschild Pentateuch will be featured in a small Getty exhibition, “Art of Three Faiths: A Torah, a Bible, and a Qur’an,” on view from August 7 through February 3, 2019.
BLOG SERIES: “Monasticism in Lockdown America” by Chris Hoke, Good Letters: In this nine-part series, prison chaplain Chris Hoke, author of Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders (HarperOne, 2015), shares conversations and encounters he’s had with men whose lives are marked by gangs, addiction, violence, and mental illness. He encourages the newly sentenced to use prison as a spiritual retreat center, a monastery, reminding them that “some men choose to live out their days in all-male places wearing the same clothing, eating plain food, growing out their beards, leaving the ‘normal’ world behind, and spending much of their time in rooms called cells, walking deeper into the mystery of God’s heart.” And Hoke walks with them. I am impressed by his ability to reveal the depths of Christian theology in contextually appropriate ways, and to stoke enthusiasm for spiritual practice—praying, reading, fasting. Some of the teachings that have resonated with prisoners are on the darkened mind and the image of God. Revelations abound for both parties.
My favorite installments are the lasttwo, on the Psalms, a book that Hoke describes as “the mess of our shared condition, in all its forms, being welcomed into God.” Like many contemporary rap lyrics, the Psalms express uncensored emotion, not, necessarily, good, clean theology. And yet they are part of the church’s sacred tradition. “What’s in you? What’s your psalm?” Hoke asks. One of the responses, by a juvenile detainee, made me cry.
EXHIBITION: “Sacred Noise,” June 25–July 21, 2018, Christie’s London (8 King St., St. James’s): I didn’t realize Christie’s auction house also mounts exhibitions! Curated by Cristian Albu, “Sacred Noise” aims to show the impact of the European legacy of Christian painting on postwar and contemporary artists. Each room is anchored by an Old Master painting. For example, a Crucifixion by Francisco de Zurbarán is displayed alongside Marlene Dumas’s Magdalena (one of the biblical characters in the Crucifixion scene) and Gerhard Richter’s Candle (picturing what would have been the Crucifixion’s original illumination source). I love this staged conversation between works and periods! A beautifully designed, 183-page catalog is available for free viewing and download.
I will say that “Modern Art and the Death of God,” the subtitle the catalog’s main essay and of the trailer, is misleading in that it seems to promote a one-sided narrative of modern art history. It appears that the exhibition does try to subvert the notion that God is absent from modern art (and this is just a case of poor titling), but I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t seen it; I have only the catalog and trailer to go on. Religious traditions were indeed “offset” in many ways by twentieth-century artists, some of whom were atheist but others of whom were devoutly Christian. One can still challenge tradition from a place of faith, and of course people of no faith can “open new interpretive horizons” that we would do well to consider. Jonathan Evens, who did see the show, says in some places it lacks nuanced readings of artists and their work; he also reminds us that a different selection of canonical artists would tell a different story, one of how Christianity can weather quite well (and has) the storms of the modern era.
significantly broadens the scope of previous studies to include new media and non-Western and Indigenous art (in addition to that of the West), presents art from diverse cultures with equal status, promotes cultural specificity, and moves beyond notions of “center and periphery,” celebrating the plurality and global nature of contemporary art today.
On June 7 Fanning gave a fifty-minute talk introducing some of the themes and artworks covered in the book. I’m sometimes turned off by discourse about vague, amorphous “spirituality,” but I found myself grabbed the whole way through. Though doctrinal specificity is avoided, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and various indigenous belief systems are represented, and as with the book, the reach is unprecedentedly global. Below the video is a breakdown of the artworks Fanning discusses.
I. SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
Johanna Bresnick and Michael Cloud Hirschfeld, From Mouth to Mouth
Bill Viola, Ascension
Anselm Kiefer, Maria
Thomas Struth, San Zaccaria
Y. Z. Kami, Daya’s Hands; White Dome IV; Konya
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Ordibebesht (Convertible Series)
Yelimane Fall, Ocean of Generosity
Jim Chuchu, Pagans XII
Mariko Mori, Tom Na H-iu
Abie Loy Kemarre, Bush Hen Dreaming A12933
Maringka Baker, Ngura Kamanti
Kathleen Petyarr, Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming—Winter Storm
David Ruben Piqtoukun, Bear in shamanic transformation
Monty Claw, We Pray for Rain
Christi Belcourt, Water Song
Calvin Hunt, Thunderbird Mask and Regalia
Marianne Nicolson, The House of Ghosts
Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Gamelatron Empat Bunga (4 Flowers)
II. ARTIST’S BODY AS SIGNIFIER OF SPIRITUAL CONTENT
Kimsooja, A Needle Woman—Kitakyushu
Anselm Kiefer, Falling Stars
Ana Mendieta, Corazón de Roca con Sangre (Rock Heart with Blood)
Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present
James Lee Byars, Autobiography alla veneziana; The Holy Ghost
James Lee Byars, Is; The Chair for the Philosophy of Question; The Rose Table of Perfect
Mierle Ukeles and Stephen Handel, I’m Talking to You: A Scent Garden
Sonam Dolma, My Father’s Death
Natvar Bhavsar, KETAK
Anish Kapoor, Shelter
Martin Puryear, A Distant Place
Anish Kapoor, Ascension
IV. ART MAKING AS SPIRITUAL PROCESS
Spinifex Women’s Collective, Minyma Tjuta
Meghann O’Brien, Sky Blanket
Lonnie Vigil, Jar
Shirazeh Houshiary, Echo
Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut; Milkstone; Ziggurat
The global push to make art more accessible to the public has led to some impressive digital creations in the past year. The following are ones I’ve really enjoyed exploring, some released as recently as this month. They all focus on a particular artwork or era or (in the case of the Jewish art database) faith tradition. I will cover the more all-encompassing digital art initiatives/databases and commendable museum websites in a future series of posts, where I will give them more individualized attention. Some of the creations below represent single projects within those broader initiatives.
As curator of art and religion at the museum, Reddaway’s role is to understand more about the paintings’ religious content and context. (Her main academic background is theology.) She also lectures for the MA in Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London. I love how she defines her primary research interest: “visual theology, especially the recovery of historic works of art as a resource for contemporary theology.”
The trailer for “The Audacity of Christian Art” is below, followed by links to all seven episodes. All are shot in ultra-high resolution and feature stunning details.
The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel: “Online exhibitions” are something I’ve seen more and more of recently—that is, the presentation of artworks in a digital rather than physical space, using tools unique to that medium to enhance the viewing experience. Last year Google Arts and Culture launched one in conjunction with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, centered around Pieter Bruegel’s The Census at Bethlehem (1566), which sets Mary and Joseph’s census registration within the hustle and bustle of a Brabant village. The interface guides you through a sequence of bite-size commentaries, sometimes presented as text alongside an image detail, sometimes as a short video. What makes it an “exhibition” is that other works are shown alongside it to locate it within a larger tradition of Netherlandish painting. One frame, for example, shows how Bruegel furthered the innovative “alla prima” technique introduced by Hieronymus Bosch.
I studied this painting in college (through slides and textbook reproductions) but have never seen it in this much detail and am now all the more in awe of it. Bruegel’s paintings, which almost always depict a flurry of activity, lend themselves particularly well to this viewing format: it’s helpful to be guided through the various vignettes, each one a window into sixteenth-century Dutch life. Up close, you can see kids blowing up pig-bladder balloons and running across the ice pushing cow jaws they got from the butcher; you can see adults patronizing a tavern in the hollow of a tree, called “In De Swaen”; and much more.