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Brentwood Cathedral’s Stations of the Cross: What Were They Thinking?!

Brentwood Cathedral’s Stations of the Cross: What Were They Thinking?! February 24, 2015

This year in anticipation of the season of Lent, England’s historic Brentwood Cathedral has unveiled an exhibit of the Stations of the Cross, as interpreted by contemporary British artists.  Top artists were each commissioned to paint one of the Stations, and each was given free reign to paint the scene as he or she saw it.  The artists–some of whom were believers, and some, not–were each given the title of one Station and a 12-inch square aluminum panel.

The paintings will be displayed in the Cathedral from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday 2015.

Father Martin Boland, dean of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Helen in Brentwood, explained his inspiration for the project in The Tablet:

It is not hard to see how religion and contemporary art might hold each other in tolerant disdain. For many believers, contemporary art – having given up on the pursuit of beauty and truth – is considered the decadent wing of secularism. On the other hand, many artists believe that religious iconography – having lost any cultural traction in a secular age – has retreated into the realm of the kitsch. I wanted to test these positions.

Well, test those positions, he did.  And while I’m not an artist or a paid critic, I know what I like–and I DON’T like this:

Brentwood - 1

This is the First Station, “Jesus Is Condemned,” as interpreted by British modernist David Ainley.  And really, I suspect this is a smeared copy of a sketch a seventh grader once did during Study Hall on the back of his spiral-bound notebook.  I mean, Where’s Jesus? Where’s Pontius Pilate?  Where’s ANYONE?

And then there’s this:

Brentwood - 7

This is the Seventh Station, “Jesus Falls the Second Time.”  The artist is Pen Dalton.

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I’m sitting here, mouth agape, looking at fifteen such photos.  I am not reminded of Jesus’ Passion and Death.  I am not reminded of anything, except maybe Cookie Monster reaching out for an empty plate.

The entire project is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the little kid who told the truth.  You remember the story?  The Emperor was very vain, and loved new clothes.  Two shyster weavers convinced him that they were weaving with a very special golden thread–so special that the suit of clothes they created wouldn’t be seen at all by a person who was unfit for his position.  The Emperor saw nothing, but hid the fact, rather than admit he was undeserving of his leadership post.  Similarly, the Emperor’s aides all admired the invisible suit–afraid that if they dared to admit they couldn’t see anything, they’d be exposed as incompetent or stupid and would be dismissed from their posts.  When the Emperor paraded before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dared to say that he didn’t see any suit of clothes until a small child cried out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” 

Oh my gosh, since Father Boland didn’t say it, I’ve just got to shout:  These paintings are atrocious, and do nothing to sanctify the holy season of Lent!

Please visit the website of Brentwood Cathedral to see a slide show of all fifteen Stations of the Cross.

And here in the United States, art aficionados will apparently have an opportunity to view the Brentwood Stations for themselves after the Cathedral exhibit closes on Good Friday.  The Stations have been donated to the Komechak Art Gallery in Chicago, as a permanent gift of art to the Museum.  The Gallery, located only 30 minutes from O’Hare International Airport, is the gallery of Benedictine University.

Photos by Graham Hillman, from the website of Brentwood Cathedral.

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UPDATE:  Elizabeth Scalia, our own Anchoress, points out that the Ninth Station looks like a reverse image of an artwork she keeps on her desk.  She’s right!  Check out this comparison!

The Ninth Station, “Jesus Falls the Third Time,” is by David Sullivan:

Brentwood - 9

And here is Elizabeth Scalia’s art piece, from some unremembered Scottish artist:

Elizabeth Scalias artwork

I find myself wondering whether it’s really by the same artist–and he’s simply reusing a theme that’s been successful in the past.  Even more disturbing, if he now identifies his abstract creation as Jesus.

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