Arts Magazine - December 1983


by Suzanne Volmer

A difficulty of theme shows can be that artists compromise their individual strength in the process of forwarding collective concern; this is true in terms of stretching to make a point as well as in abridging the times. If successful, however, a theme show can enhance an issue under examination by increasing the faceting of perspective. In “Saints,” there arises both the indiscrete interest in religious art carried on by young contemporary artists and the larger relationship which develops from the reemergence of this focus and thus the discussion on the void it attempts to fill.

The obvious point is that organized Christianity has been seminal in establishing our western sense of narrative form, in grandeur and scope, and in using this as a propagandist means to manipulate and shape the masses. The Church, after all, has had success in its enterprise as a purveyor of morality. It is an attractive source in our derivative times because of the power it commands. Apparently, where contemporary life is fast, at least religious art is monumental, a base upon which to target a more personally telling narrative.

Christian art is a visual aid to a structure organized to assuage spiritual and emotional plurality. It is attractive to the post-modernist in the same way that the Renaissance must have been attractive after the Dark Ages. Literally, it is an uplifting environment in which to fight the torment of conditional life. Basically, artists find that its divinity is parallel to their own situation. They exploit the genre with impropriety driven by an irreverence unique to their pluralism, yet are inspired, falling for the allure of the higher rationale and the mystification of circumstance. In religious art, self-depreciation and integrity merge n a dynaflow of emotional strength, supplying the artist with a sense of perseverance as well as everlasting life. The resolution factor is amazingly surreal. Death does not happen by natural causes; rather it is imposed, and here lies the relationship between popular social feeling and martyrdom itself. There is no question that in the pantheism of current reference, religious works are anything but another resource; however, they are nonetheless a provocative venue in therms of sustaining the ego of our time.

The point is that today’s artists have a keener eye towards sustaining themselves than they do in sustaining an ether above them. The severity of the style speaks more clearly about unjust and unsolvable conflict challenging us as a society than it professes theological conviction. These artists are looking for continuity and use religious interest to compensate for the doubt characteristic of blending a beginning with an end, meaning that this show is timely in its parallelism since neo-expressionism is the device of preference used to shore up and close out post-modern discrepancy. (Harm Bouckaert, September 7 – October 1)


Pictured: Video Madonna, 1983, Oil on canvas, 84″ x 48″