Powerful images of the crucifixion go on display at Ben Uri Gallery this summer. The show examines how and why artists of different religions, or of none, use the crucifixion as a central motif in modern and contemporary practice.
David Glasser talks about art and censorship and the Crucifixion motif in contemporary art.
Ben Uri was the first UK museum and the first Jewish museum internationally to trace the evolving representation of the Crucifixion from strictly Christian and religious iconography to a generic expression of anguish, designed specifically to elicit shock and contemplation.
Twenty-one important international artists are represented in the exhibition, each bringing a very individual narrative drawn from a century of turbulent change. This exhibition dramatically illustrates that when the modern is juxtaposed with the traditional within the framework of such a sensitive subject, the result is both visually and intellectually compelling.
Graham Sutherland, Stanley Spencer, Duncan Grant, Eric Gill, Craigie Aitchison, Emmanuel Levy, Lee Miller, Tracey Emin, Francis Souza, Marc Chagall, Norman Adams, Betty Swanwick, John Armstrong, Samuel Bak, Robert Henderson Blyth, Gilbert Spencer, Michael Rothenstein, Sybil Andrews, Maggi Hambling, Roy De Maistre and David Jones all illustrate, in very different ways, the rapid evolution of the symbol of the Crucifixion from the sacred to the secular.
Evocative works by Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, Emmanuel Levy, and the recently discovered 'Apocalypse en Lilas' by Marc Chagall, raise a multitude of questions including why Jewish artists only seem to have adopted Christ and the Crucifixion as part of their artistic vocabulary from the last quarter of the 19th century.
The fully-illustrated catalogue includes essays by Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts at Kings College, London; Jennifer Swan, psychologist and researcher in analytical theory and the arts; Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Professor Emeritus in the department of Art History at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, and curator / historian Monica Bohm-Duchen. Each image is also individually addressed by independent commentators stimulating debate and interaction between the works and the sensitivity of the subject. Also addressed is why only in relatively recent years have artists of the Jewish (and Muslim) faith engaged with the Crucifixion.
"This is a powerful collection of images ... from the point of view of every variety of belief, doubt or unbelief: a deeply moving and questioning exhibition" Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.
"This is one of the most remarkable exhibitions of paintings on a religious theme for many years and it deserves to be widely recognised as such" Richard Harries, Lord Harries of Pentregarth.
The exhibition was curated by Nathaniel Hepburn.
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