A new exhibition is presented at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) of Saint-Louis University, aiming to present the range of the human condition.
Titled “Double Vision,” the exhibition features works from the collections of three museums based at Jesuit universities and includes artists such as Keith Haring, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol. The exhibit, which kicked off Feb. 16 and will run through May 22, is open to the public free of charge.
The 28 works in the exhibition are arranged in pairs. These couples, selected to embody a secular value, such as “Courage”, “Honesty” or “Justice”, are sorted in space to represent the 14 Stations of the Cross.
“I hope that out of these 14 themes and 28 works of art, there will be at least one of these themes – hopefully more – that will resonate with people,” said museum director David Brinker.
In total, the works span five centuries and a wide range of genres, giving rise to sometimes surprising pairings. The oldest, an illuminated manuscript by the first Dutch painter Willem Vrelant made in 1470 AD, is paired with a 1999 painted woodcarving by American folk artist and santero Nicholas Herrera. Together, these works serve to exemplify the ideal of “compassion”.
“It’s a very eclectic show,” Brinker said. “There is, I think, something for every artistic taste.”
First showing at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University from August to December 2021, the exhibition is the result of a collaboration between SLU, Marquette, and Loyola University Chicago that began in February 2020. “Double Vision” is co-curated by Brinker and Haggerty curator Lynne Shumow.
“It’s a very unusual show for us. It was a very unusual show for the Haggertys,” Brinker said. “Lynne and I, when we put this together, we made the same point. We said, ‘ “Oh my God, it’s so much mixed up.” We just hope it doesn’t feel like a garage sale.
“Double Vision” is the second time MOCRA has featured a Haring or a Warhol, Brinker said. In 1995 the museum presented “Altarpiece: The Life of Christ”, Haring’s last work, and it presented Warhol’s “Silver Clouds”, a group of 40 to 50 large balloons, in 2001, 2002 and 2006. Works currently on display are a marker drawing by Haring, made during a 1983 visit to the Haggerty, and a 1966 print by Warhol of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
“It’s a lot less work to do than blowing up balloons every day, which I did a lot,” Brinker said.
Many works deal with desperate episodes in history: the slave trade, the AIDS crisis, the wars in Vietnam, Central America and West Africa. But the exhibition ends with the message “Hope”.
“That’s what we want MOCRA to be,” Brinker said. “We want people to appreciate the art, but it’s a space where they can go further, if they want to.”
One painting, the abstract, vertical “Red Sea” by Trinidadian-American artist Gary Logan, is inspired by a lecture the artist heard while a graduate student. Logan recalled that when discussing JMW Turner’s 1840 painting “The Slave Ship”, known for its depiction of enslaved Africans drowning to death, his teacher made no mention of the horrible scene.
Viewed from top to bottom, Brinker said, Logan’s painting has a “darker, harder, more pessimistic view,” starting with orange, then red, and finally fading into black. But when read upside down, it tells a more optimistic story.
Some of the works have a distinctly religious theme, such as Belgian artist Joseph Paelinck’s 1822 painting “Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert”, or Israeli artist Adi Nes’ 2006 photograph “Abraham and Isaac”. For others, religion still plays a role, Brinker said, though it may be more subtle, citing the influence of Christian iconography on Warhol as an example.
“For people who have a sense of spirituality or religion, there are many ways to access it,” Brinker said.
Brinker said he hopes visitors will be inspired by the exhibit even after leaving the museum.
“We present the themes of our works, and the invitation is for visitors to take that and then do something with that,” Brinker said. “I hope it will have a positive impact on their lives.”