Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Glasgow's Archbishop criticizes Modern Art

Modern art is paganised and increasingly reflects a culture of death, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow has said.

He was speaking a day after the Pope met more than 250 artists at the Sistine Chapel in Rome, urging them to embark on a "quest for beauty".

Archbishop Conti said in his homily at a Mass for artists in Glasgow that a lot of modern art was "incoherent and dispiriting".

He said: "If we can legitimately speak of a culture of death, much art reflects it: the body is defaced; the marital act prostituted; gender dissembled."

In particular he cited a play portraying Jesus as a transsexual, called Jesus, Queen of Heaven, and an exhibition displaying a Bible with abuse written on it. He has said it was "disgraceful" that both events received public funding.

He compared the offence they caused to Christians to the apparent offence given to a Finnish woman by the display of crucifixes in Italian classrooms - a complaint upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

Archbishop Conti said the image of the crucified Christ was deemed offensive because it had become a challenge to secular society.

He quoted an editorial in L'Osservatore Romano which predicted a time when public places were stripped of religious symbols "for fear of offending others' sensibilities".

In Europe, he said, "the very foundations of our Christian civilisation are being disturbed", and modern art, as an expression of culture, reflected that.

The archbishop concluded his homily by urging Christian artists to use their work to bear witness to Christ, "and so countering all that obscures his beauty".

His appeal closely echoed that of Pope Benedict XVI in his meeting with 262 leading arts figures in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday.

Guests, who included artist Anish Kapoor, composer Ennio Morricone and Gomorra director Matteo Garrone - though not U2 singer Bono, who was invited but could not attend - sat underneath Michelangelo's Last Judgment and heard a choir sing music by Palestrina.

Pope Benedict told them that they had a "great responsibility to communicate beauty".

True beauty, he said, forced people to encounter reality and pointed them to the mystery of existence and, ultimately, to God.

The Pope appropriated the language of modern art criticism, saying beauty "gives man a healthy 'shock', it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum". He said it may even make the onlooker suffer, "piercing him like a dart".

He then distinguished between superficial beauty, which "rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess", and true beauty, which "unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the other, to reach for the beyond". He said: "If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the mystery of which we are part."

The Pope said that beauty, whether in nature or in art, by pointing beyond ourselves, and "bringing us face to face with the abyss of infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate mystery, towards God".

The Pope urged artists to "enter into dialogue with believers". He said that faith "takes nothing from your genius or your art. On the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them".

Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born architect, said afterwards that the audience "was quite an emotional experience". The American architect Daniel Libeskind described it as an "amazing step". Bill Viola, an American video artist, told the New York Times that artists had struggled for centuries "walking that fine line between creative freedom, between bending the rules" and breaking them. But he said the audience had "real potential for something interesting".

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, director of the Pontifical Council for Culture, organised the event. He has suggested that the Vatican should have its own pavilion at the next Venice Biennale art exhibition in 2011 as well as at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

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