Taking advantage of its visible location in downtown Staunton, Virginia, Dixon Gallery has installed a temporary work on the exterior of its building, offering a contemporary perspective for Easter weekend.
On view from Good Friday through Easter Monday, the work features an empty wood cross at the center, flanked by a scripture passage and an original drawing of an angel in the windows. These traditional images of the Resurrection are juxtaposed with modern displays of mourning in an effort to place Christ's sacrifice in the context of our present world and its secular rituals.
Unlike most contemporary art, this composition does not challenge the viewer to question the truth of religion or the value of faith, but rather to examine whether we even consider ourselves worthy of such gifts. We can only begin to grasp the promise of the eternal in contrast to the reality of the temporal; perhaps the Resurrection would be more relevant if we were more reverent.
ANOTHER ROADSIDE DISTRACTION
mixed media street art installation by Dixon Studio, Easter Weekend 2019
wood cross & readymade objects in foreground, pencil & ink on paper in background
Because a liturgical artist doesn't have a statement, but rather visualizes statements of scripture, we offer instead, CURATOR'S QUESTIONS:
What would we do if Jesus were crucified in our lifetime?
Probably the same thing we do when newsmakers or neighbors die on our streets. We erect makeshift memorials at the site of the slaughter, heaping flowers, candles, and stuffed animals in a compost of condolences. Why have we abandoned the church and its sacraments, if only to replace those sacred spaces and profound rituals with transient shrines and fleeting gestures?
What would the government do if Jesus were executed as a criminal today?
Probably the same thing it has done for centuries. It makes examples of those who break the law. The Romans mocked their convict with a sign that declared him ‘King of the Jews,' as a warning of the fate that could –and did– befall his followers. The department of transportation posts signs at the sites of traffic deaths as a caution to those who would exceed the limits. Why have we allowed the government to usurp our loved one's memories, reducing whole lives to ominous yet generic memorials of the place and manner of their deaths?
Where would the angel find mourners today to announce the Resurrection?
Probably the same places we find ourselves in the modern secular society. We post 'thoughts and prayers' online, order flowers via text to be delivered to 'celebrations of life,' while meaning to call or stop by soon. Why have we abdicated our roles in the mourning process and come to rely on social media to fulfill our social obligations?
Why are we still seeking the living among the dead?
The human spirit yearns to acknowledge grief and honor the dead. But have we progressed in our struggle to transcend tragedy and bestow dignity on our earthly existence and its end? Or have we commercialized and compartmentalized the human experience by tossing store bought bouquets on a souless sidewalk, whizzing past warning signs of mortality on our morning commute, and scrolling through photos of our dearly departed in our daily news feed? If we dared to perceive death, perhaps we could believe in eternal life.
The pencil drawing in the window is an original cartoon for a stained glass window, c. 1985, by Ronald Neill Dixon, a prolific liturgical artist, with hundreds of commissions in churches across Virginia and more than a dozen other states. His work is seen by tens, even hundreds of thousands of people every week, but it is generally the same people in the same churches.
Dixon Gallery is framing his work in modern secular art settings and even post-modern street art, to bring it to a wider audience and to create a new context for its current clientele. Gallery goers and art aficionados may discover a new medium and settings to explore in their own neighborhoods or near the major museums to which they make their pilgrimages. The faithful may see the stained glass windows and other liturgical arts in their own churches in a new light, not only as silent sermons but as fine examples of museum quality artwork and excellent craftsmanship.
As with most contemporary art installations, this work is more cultural commentary than skilled art. The whole visual statement may be seen as clever or shocking or thought provoking but the only fine art involved is the drawing of the angel, a ‘found object’ pulled from the studio's attic archives and included in the assemblage.
Unlike the full composition, the angel requires no lengthy explanation. It is simply beautiful and inspiring. People are drawn to it, want to gaze upon it, to meditate on the imagery and the event, and are moved to find or create more beauty in their lives.