Popular artists like Banksy, Ron English and Damien Hirst have all blended Religious iconography with commercial images in the creation of artworks that take the piss out of Things That People Worship, but that’s not to say they’ve made the definitive statements when it come to mockery of organized religion and scathing criticism of “The Church” in general. Because that domain is pretty much open to everyone with a thought and a way to express it.
Curated by Marat Guelman and Juan Puntes, Recycling Religion is a group show at WhiteBox which examines the role of religion in Russia and Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet empire.
A statement from the exhibit’s Press Release explains, “In the modern age, the once repressed and dormant Orthodox Church has evolved in the past quarter century to become an intrinsic and powerful extension of the State, commanding broad influence over life beyond its purely spiritual role. From art and entertainment to dress code, and numerous other aspects of personal behavior, this essentially anachronistic religion insinuates its moralizing, oppressive influence and rancid style into life at large.
“In the case of art, the Church goes to extreme lengths to impose and control popular taste, to the inevitable disgust of a new generation of artists — a stellar and representative group of which is represented in this exhibition — who dare to employ Orthodox imagery and symbolism to undermine the established religious canon and the dystopia it fosters in harness with state power. To such artists, the Church is but a hollow vessel that sustains itself only with elaborate stage sets and costumes, outdated ritual, and severe moralizing. However, it is their contention that while the regurgitated apparatus of the official Church represents a moribund ideology, it serves also as a foil by which art can transcend tradition and discover the new-within-the-old.
“This subterfuge is depicted vividly, and in fact compassionately, in this exhibition, in which, through installation, performance, video, and graphic art, the conservative and radical poles of post-Soviet society are shown to in fact interact. As one allegedly spiritual force engages in tearing the world apart while pretending to mend it, another, more pragmatic, biological force appeals to the need to rebuild society out of the ruins of Orthodoxy, thus recycling religion, rather than eradicating it entirely.
Artists participating in the Recycling Religion exhibit include Pussy Riot, Oleg Kulik, Dmitri Gutov, Iija Soskic, Jelena Tomasevic, Recycle Group, Alexander Kosolapov, Duke Riley + Mac Premo, Federico Solmi, Robert Priseman, ANVIL Collective, Electroboutique, Vladimir Kozin, Pavel Brat, Arsen Savadov.
The exhibit includes two walls covered with a grid of deified, iconic dead celebrities/public figures, whose demise often occurred by their own hand or as a result of misadventure. You will have some fun spotting your favorites; some instantly recognizable and others much less so.
These two are pretty fantastic, in both their concept and execution.
In the video above, you’ll see another kinetic piece, where the Pope’s head is depicted as a chattering, mechanized parade float.
Contemporary Homage to Thomas Paine, English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary.
A HUGE pet peeve of mine is when galleries do not post the names of the artworks/artists on the walls adjacent to each piece, so that you have no idea who did what; because most people do not read minds but wish to know this information. Such was the case with Recycling Religion, as none of the displays offered the desired identification. and the website is similarly lacking. How lazy. At any rate, I really enjoyed the work of whichever artist created the above altar as part of a series of sculptures/installations involving wooden skulls. Here are a few more of his/her pieces.
And here’s a study sketch for several pieces.
Recycling Religion will be on Exhibit through January 17th, 2016 at WhiteBox, Located at 329 Broome Street, NYC 10002.