Religion is often the apparent culprit in today’s war-torn world, so an exhibition with a spiritual undertone may seem unnerving. But the Loyola University Museum of Art tactfully illustrates the many meanings of this theme through an amalgamation of more than a hundred works, and the result is both refreshing and enlightening. Located on Michigan Avenue, a tourist haven, LUMA should anticipate a diverse crowd—fitting for this show, which is bound to have an impact. It harmoniously combines artworks spanning various cultures, religions and continents.
Upon entering the first gallery, visitors have their pick of contemporary works. Kenneth Gerleve’s “The Drones” consists of eighteen cutouts of the Eye of Providence motif, pointing to a “Divine Presence” observing mankind. Visitors can also write responses to a posed statement in a notebook, part of Teresa Albor’s piece, “What lies beyond.” Loyola University Chicago students will transcribe these statements, emulating the monastic tradition of transcribing sacred texts.
The second gallery steals the show. Visitors are lured in by large, silver-colored balloons bouncing around, thanks to carefully placed fans. Notwithstanding the joy balloons bring, visitors realize the relevance of Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds.” Many see this piece as “walking through Heaven,” the museum notes. Since Warhol was a devoted Catholic, this is a worthy interpretation. But its spiritual qualities are also revealed in the transcendental experience it evokes. The dimly lit gallery and pillow-shaped balloons suggest a dream-like state; the delicate balloon touches and humming fans create a peaceful environment. This movement is juxtaposed with stasis in Lewis deSoto’s “Paranirvana (Self Portrait),” a large inflatable sculpture based on the Buddha at Gal Vihara in Sri Lanka. Together, these pieces imply life and death.
Many religious images—abstract and figurative, contemporary and historic—infiltrate the remaining galleries, alongside books, sculptures and other media. Notably, these inclusions are not solely from a Western perspective. The crèches displayed, for example, hail from five continents. While bringing together LUMA’s “greatest hits” from past exhibitions and acquisitions, this show recognizes how spirituality, perhaps surprisingly, is a concept that reaches across societal divides. (Amy Haddad)
Through October 11 at Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 North Michigan.
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently a Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition and Art Editor of Newcity. Formerly, he was Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.