It is extraordinary to hear a song reverberating off stonewalls and then dissipate into thin air. The soaring beauty of ephemeral art! Sometimes I find myself holding my breath as the soloist hits a high note or that incredibly awkward person tells his testimony. Do we appreciate that moment? Because many of us are conductors of that symphony, curators of beauty and we don’t realize the importance of our position.
The exhibit at the Brooklyn Art Museum that has caused a furor in New York and generated reams of material for editorial pages is titled "Sensation." That title offers a good clue about the commercial interests behind the show.
I almost got through the '90s without mentioning contemporary art controversies. You did not read anything here about Piss Christ and Elephant Dung Mary or the people who make their livelihood off the brouhaha over such images—religious "antidefamation" interests, lawyers, third-rate artists, and public officials who express outrage. But now I feel compelled to comment.
Recently I was in New York to hear the St. Olaf Choir sing, transcendently, at Carnegie Hall. I was there both as a member of the college’s board and as a devotee of a cappella music. After the concert an alumna asked whether I would join a little company, including St. Olaf president Mark Edwards and his spouse, for a private showing of “woolies” at the Seamen’s Church Institute.
Happily, the offices of the Christian Century are located across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s great art museums. I walk across the street occasionally and have a look. It is perhaps a reflection of the lifestyle that many of us live that I tend to view a lot of paintings and not linger for long before any one of them.