Thursday 20 May 2010

Approaches to church-based exhibitions

Jonathan Evens has a review in the latest issue of Art & Christianity. Although a review of the Resurrection exhibition held by Christian Arts at Bury St Edmonds, the piece also questions, as a stimulus to debate, approaches taken by Christian arts organisations such as Christian Arts and commission4mission to the church-based exhibitions we organise.

The section of the review dealing with these questions and issues is as follows:

"Having recently organised several similar church-based exhibitions of art by artists explicitly viewing themselves and their art as ‘Christian’, the experience of viewing Resurrection also raised a series of issues and questions which are generic to this type of venture.

Here church space was made over into gallery space as the display panels used formed ‘white cubes’. However, if the art were to be integrated into the variety of spaces offered by such a large church would that not enable the art to more readily enhance the ongoing worship life of the church, which otherwise happens around the art instead of with it? Would it not also thereby demonstrate the value of commissioning such works as this generation’s contribution to the ongoing accrual of art which occurs in most churches over the ages?

Such exhibitions highlight the extent to which many artists continue to engage with the Christian faith, its narratives and imagery, and value the opportunities which churches can provide for their work to be seen and appraised by the wider Christian community. Our cathedrals and some central city churches now regularly engage with artists that have national or international reputations both challenging such artists to respond to faith and being challenged by their responses. Parish churches can potentially play a similar role in relation to artists with currently local and/or regional reputations and could do much more to provide both the lifeline of support and encouragement combined with spaces for the practice and exhibition of art in a wide variety of forms.

The exhibitions we organise could also adopt more radical models, perhaps drawing on the experience of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland and it’s engagement with the idea of ‘Sacrum’ in Polish Art during the 1980’s. There, martial law forced virtually the entire artistic community to boycott the official exhibition spaces and the only other places which found approval among independent artistic and intellectual groups were the churches. So, that was where artistic meetings, shows and exhibitions were held with most significant Polish artists and art figures participating in them, and only a very few steering away from addressing religious themes.

Our cultural and political situation is clearly very different but, if we understood consumerism to be the major force of our culture (and one in which the contemporary art establishment is implicated), could exhibitions held in and organised by churches, instead of simply recreating gallery space in church space, not form a more radical alternative to the consumerist practices of the contemporary art establishment by working with artists who themselves challenge consumerism and challenging those, like myself, in Christian arts organisations to do likewise?"

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