awe, devotion, admiration, esteem, honor, respect...
Devotion and awe as well as synonyms such as adoration and veneration lend
themselves to a religious or spiritual implication though a work of art
might be created from a deeply felt sense of devotion that has no religious
basis. In reverence we are interested in the transcendent, the elegiac,
perhaps even the divine without ritual or doctrine. Can an artist achieve
a deeply felt sense of awe without the trappings of iconography?
No doubt Damien Hirst achieves this in "Exaltation," a butterfly painting set into a ten foot high highly finished white oblong frame with pink interior border. Thousands of gorgeous and variegated butterfly wings are applied in a dense and specific pattern giving the sense of a wondrous stained glass cathedral window. Here the use of color, translucence and height, drawing the eyes and the spirit ever upward, are features inherent to reverent worship, echoing the Psalm's: "I lift my eyes up to the heights, from whence I draw my inspiration". The work is ultimately a powerful metaphor for life and death and transcendence of nature and the spirit.
So too Hermann Nitsch’s painting “Schuttbild,” the oldest
work shown (1962) uniquely uses unconventional materials, blood spattered
on burlap in a work that has a sense of the profane and sacred. In Jannis
Kounellis’s 1986 large steel work, both the left sided Munch-like
drawing and the copper fire jets convey a sense of human annihilation and
memory and perhaps reflects on the painful passage from this world to the
next, referencing the power of fire to purify and to transition. Yet Kounellis
might not agree. He remains silent as to the meaning of this and similar
Anselm Kiefer’s work related to Lillith includes this monumental painting,
“Sefirot,” which is the transliterated Hebrew word meaning counting.
The work references the Kabala and its billowing dress with six arms and
the large stamped lead disk above related to the steps humankind might ascend
to achieve oneness in the universe. Doug and Mike Starn’s large photo
“Large Gothic With Pipe Clamps” is in part a devotion to Renaissance
painting – specifically northern German religious works, as well as
to the individual connection to the divine. But the manner in which the
image is appropriated, a close up of a small portion of a small painting,
on x-ray film, framed on visible wooden stretchers, brings a single face
and life into focus.
Inexorably connecting to Keifer's and the Starns' concept of "Imago Dei",
is Jeff Talman's video, "Unending Columns" in which a sense of ascension
is achieved. Shirin Neshat's "Turbulence," as well as her images in "Soliloquy",
tracks the essence of reaching to divinity through such modes as purification
as well as prayer/liturgy/word and verse. The longing that is expressed
in her photo's and video works, go beyond ritual performance. They speak
of a seeking out the divine, of the spiritual heights to which the soul
John Walker's work "The Chamber" is an oblique reference to Christianity,
to Jesus as "The Door," or the gateway leading to the other worldly, to
life everlasting. In Tim Rollins' "The Temptation of St. Anthony," the metaphor
of the door, the gateway, the skiff on the journey, the entry, death as
the passage, is universally shared. Jan Avotin's painting, "Church," conveys
the ethereal quality of devotion in a prayer-like space, but without the
title one would not readily locate the space. Mapplethorpe's "Death's Head"
cane accompanies him and reflects upon him on his way out of this life just
as much as the funeral pyres of Eastern and ancient beliefs and traditions.
Terence Koh's elegaic memento mori is his "tombstone" made of cake.
The universal or primal need to believe in and to revere that which gives
us spiritual uplifting, which gives us a sense of eternity and of meaning
beyond the here and now. Trenton Doyle Hancock’s “In the Blesstian
Room,” which emerges from his strict childhood Christian upbringing,
is internalized and metamorphosed to a repetitive internal chant textualized
on the wall and painting. Shirazeh Houshiary’s painting is a prayer-like
mantra, thousands of delicate markings, an analog for meditation of a Sufi
artist. Amy Myers’s drawing “Hyloz Ring” similarly is
ritualistic and non-specific. Devotion and ecstasy implicit in Helen Sadler’s
tiny paintings, in Francesco Vezzoli’s needle points and Folkert de
Jong’s “Monroe,” are to more modern idols: rock musicians
and Hollywood stars. In Justen Ladda’s gowns made of chandelier crystals,
reverence is for the garment which lends splendor to the individual who
wears it. For Radcliff Bailey, “Soular Taps,” is devotion to
ones roots: religion, ethnicity, ancestry and music (Miles Davis) inexorably
Folkert De Jong
The most abstract works are installations of Micah Silver and Leonardo Drew.
Drew’s “Untitled #29” hanging of shroud-like distressed
canvases, or alternatively ascending spires, convey a sense of religious
architecture and historicity. Silver’s piano ensemble, discarded harps
lying on their side with music thrumming as though from their past lives,
is an exquisite memento mort.
The works in this exhibit have wide range. What makes each one compelling
and interesting is the unique voice of each work and the way in which
materials and image lends to an emotional reading. The power in the work
is realized when the viewer participates in the dialogue.
Art is often at its best when the artist’s starting point is a fulcrum
from which radiates out dialogue and inspiration. These works open the dialogue
to shared beliefs and shared aspirations - across gender, across culture
and across racial and cultural divides. When there is not only devotion
but also a spirit of generosity and inclusion the artist draws us to a place