Thought-Pourri: Art News Roundup

I’m continuing with this weekly roundup of interesting news items about art, architecture, and design, because so far it seems readers are reacting positively. I’ve not settled on a permanent title for this feature, so if anyone cares to make suggestions on a more clever moniker, please share your thoughts in the comments! And now, on to the roundup.

Event: “Beauty and the Restoration of the Sacred”

This looks to be quite an event, if you are going to be in the Chicago area on October 29th – but you need to act now.

The Catholic Art Guild will be holding a day-long conference titled “Beauty and the Restoration of the Sacred” at The Drake Hotel (my favorite watering hole in the Windy City), featuring some of today’s most prominent voices advocating for the creation, preservation, and greater appreciation of beautiful art. The speakers will be writer and philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, architect Duncan Stroik, art/architecture professor Dr. Denis McNamara, and artist Anthony Visco. If you’re a fellow conservative interested in the arts, these are all individuals with whom you are already very, very familiar. The opportunity of getting to hear and meet all of them at the same event is an opportunity not to be missed.

The day will begin with Latin High Mass at the magnificent Baroque Revival church of St. John Cantius, which is without question the most beautiful church in Chicago, and then proceed to The Drake for presentations, dinner, and a concluding panel discussion. Frankly, if I could manage it with my schedule, I’d be there myself. So you’ll have to attend for me, and share your reactions with the rest of us in the Comments section.

PLEASE NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance, as they will not be available at the door, and you *must* book by Monday, October 23rd.


New Exhibit: Norwegian Nonsense

By way of complete contrast to the preceding, but demonstrating why such conferences are critical in this day and age, the four finalists for this year’s Lorck Schive Kunstpris – the most “prestigious” art prize in that country – are now on display at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum. Among these, perhaps the silliest is Mattias Härenstam’s “Limitation”, which features a dead birch tree attached to pulleys that drag the dessicated specimen around the gallery. I’m sure this is all very profound if you’re a Norwegian atheist with more bad taste than brains, but not falling into any of those categories myself, my recommendation would be to just ignore this show entirely, and instead go explore Trondheim’s superb Nidaros Cathedral, built between about 1000-1300 A.D.


Follow Up: Dalí, Disinterred

Regular readers will recall from these pages my reports on the long-standing efforts of psychic Pilar Abel to prove that she was the illegitimate offspring of the great Catalan Surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), as the result of a (ahem) dalliance which she claimed took place between her mother and the artist back in the 1950’s. After many years of wasting everyone’s time and resources in several unsuccessful attempts to establish her paternity claim, it appears that the courts have finally had enough. A judge in Madrid has now dismissed the suit, and ordered Ms. Abel to pay associated costs, including those incurred during the disinterment of the artist’s remains back in July.


New Exhibit: Dalí, Designer

Speaking of Salvador Dalí, one genuine, platonic partnership which the artist actively engaged in during his lifetime was with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). To mark their many years of collaboration, the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida has just opened a new exhibition examining the work of the artist and the couturier, running through January 14th. Although today Schiaparelli is far less known than her contemporary and rival, Coco Chanel, for several decades until her retirement in the early ‘50’s, Schiaparelli was a force to be reckoned with in the design world, creating haute couture for women who wanted something more edgy than the more sensible, minimalist designs presented by Chanel. Schiaparelli collaborated with Dalí on a number of designs which blurred the line between art and clothing, including the famous “Lobster Dress”, worn here by the infamous Duchess of Windsor.


New Exhibit: French King, Dutch Art

Another exhibition worth taking in, should you be so fortunate as to find yourself in Paris in the coming months, is “François I and Dutch Art”, which has just opened at The Louvre and runs until January 15th. King François I of France – sometimes jokingly referred to as, “Le Roi Nez” due to his prominent beak – was a major art collector and patron at the dawn of the French Renaissance. He famously managed to coax an elderly Leonardo Da Vinci to leave Italy, and go into semi-retirement at a country house located near the king’s principal residence in the Loire Valley. As this new exhibition points out however, François’ substantial art collection included much more than just the “Mona Lisa”, as he was particularly keen on acquiring or commissioning altarpieces, portraits, and scenes of everyday life from contemporary Dutch artists. Among the most interesting works is this very early genre scene by Bartholomeus Pons (active 1518-1541), depicting workers taking barrels down into a wine cellar. The picture has the crystalline precision one expects of Dutch painting from this period, combined with keen observations of everyday life, and a superb understanding of the complexities involved in rendering believable architectural perspective.


An Invitation to DC Area Readers

For those of my readers who are in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, I would like to extend an invitation to you to join me this Sunday, November 20th at 11:00 a.m., for what promises to be a particularly memorable celebration of the Eucharist at my parish of St. Stephen Martyr.  St. Stephen’s is located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Streets, N.W., a couple of blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station, as you head towards Georgetown.  Even if you are not a Catholic, or of any particular religious affiliation, you will be most welcome.  It will be a grand opportunity for you to not only experience a beautiful celebration of the mass with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, but also to admire a large and remarkable new piece of sculpture, as well as to hear some magnificent sacred music performed exceedingly well.

I should first provide a little background, for my readers who are not Catholics.  This weekend the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King, which is the end of our liturgical year.  The new Church year begins the following weekend with the 1st Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas.  For those of us who are members of St. Stephen’s however, which some of us younger members refer to affectionately as “St. Yuppie’s”, this Sunday will be an extra-special celebration of the feast reminding us of Christ’s promise of His eventual return in glory.

It just so happens that this the 50th anniversary of our present parish building, which was completed in 1961, though this is the second church to sit on the site, as St. Stephen’s was originally founded in 1866.  To mark the occasion, Cardinal Wuerl will be dedicating our beautiful new front doors, featuring bronze sculptural reliefs of the life of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, by artist Anthony Visco, and about which I have written about previously in a photo-essay.  The Cardinal will also be dedicating our new vestibule, which has provided better lighting to the main entrance to the church and improved insulation from the street noise and the elements on busy Pennsylvania Avenue just outside.

We are also very fortunate to have, as of the past few months, our new music director and organist Neil Weston, a native of the UK who studied at Oxford, the University of London, and the Royal College of Music, and served as Assistant Master of Music at Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex before moving to the United States. He is an extraordinary musician in his own right, and has taken our choir – which was always very good – to even greater musical heights. A regular Sunday mass at St. Stephen’s since Mr. Weston’s arrival is one marked with wonderful music as it is, aided by the superb acoustics of the somewhat Neo-Cistercian interior of our church, with its parabolic arches amplifying and enriching the sound as in old, Gothic-era monastic churches in Europe.  I for one am looking forward with great anticipation to what the music for this coming Sunday, on this very special occasion, will sound like.

For the mass itself, I have the great privilege of serving as the first reader from the Scriptures, and will be reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.
(Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17)

And for those of you interested in history, below is a picture of JFK coming out of mass at St. Stephen’s back in 1963. There is also a great picture of him and Jackie doing so one Sunday in 1962, which hangs in the church lobby, though unfortunately I cannot seem to find a scan of it online. While the building itself may not be that old, because of its location in the Nation’s Capital, midway between the White House and Georgetown, it has had a number of prominent people worship here regularly, or drop in/pass by from time to time, including even Pope Benedict XVI in the Popemobile during the Papal Visit to Washington a few years ago.  In fact, there is a great photo in the lobby of him raising his hand in benediction as he passed in front of St. Stephen’s.

In short, with what promises to be a wonderful celebration, as well as the beautiful, sunny, and mild autumn weather anticipated for Sunday, you have every reason to consider joining us on our parish’s special day. All is done for the greater glory of God, as we praise and thank Him for the many blessings He has bestowed on the members of St. Stephen’s for so many years, and which encourages us to reach out to our surrounding community. So even if just for a brief visit, gentle reader, it would be wonderful to see you there this weekend.

JFK leaving St. Stephen’s after mass