Visual Art Currently Hanging
posted by August 22 at 12:03 PMon
The Adam and Eve page from the St. John’s Bible project
Several things make me uncomfortable about the traveling show of a contemporary hand-written and illustrated bible that’s now at the Tacoma Art Museum.
First, almost all of the illustrations are terribly, terribly ugly, like this one of Adam and Eve. They are in the style of religious craft-fair materials, or mass-produced religious posters, the kind you saw hanging in the offices of progressive churches in the ’80s. It is painful.
Second, and keeping that in mind, why is this show at an art museum in one of the least religious states in the union? When the Minneapolis Institute of Arts announced it was organizing a national tour for the show on behalf of Saint John’s University, it boasted that the show was looking for audiences in major cities, including New York, LA, Chicago, Seattle, and Detroit. Instead, according to that same web page, the exhibition only found exhibition venues in Collegeville, Minnesota; Mobile, Alabama; and Tacoma.
The presentation at TAM is unquestioning. In sweeping script on the walls and in labels that came straight from the organizers and were not allowed to be altered, the TAM presentation supports the project’s own elevated claims of importance.
But does this bible really matter to average Christians, or is this tour just a way to drum up money for the project? Is this bible really engaging any debates about the rapidly growing differences between fundamentalist and progressive Christian practice? If it has no art value—and believe me, it doesn’t—then does it even have any religious value?
And on a more general note, why does the Tacoma Art Museum lately feel like a red state inside? The history of that museum is one of innovation, progress, and underdog successes. Recent shows of children’s illustrators and quilters seem to send the message that the museum thinks Tacoma doesn’t know from art and might be intimidated if the museum put some up. As a former Tacoman myself, I take umbrage.
The one thing TAM still has going for it is curator Rock Hushka. He’s responsible for fighting to bring Janet Cardiff’s “Forty Part Motet” to TAM simultaneously with this bible show, and because of his determination, a trip there this summer isn’t a total loss. The spirit of Cardiff’s show is to experience and question the gaps between individual and collective experience, and between hearing something and knowing its full meaning. Now those are subjects that give religious people of all types something to relate to and consider.