MOCRA exhibitions: Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus

The first St. Louis showing of a series of abstract etchings inspired by and dedicated
to the French composer Olivier Messiaen.

Dan Ramirez: Twenty Contemplations logo

     September 10 - December 5, 2004
         free public opening reception   Friday, September 10   5:30-7:30 p.m.

     exhibition extended through February 27, 2005

     also on display: Radiant Forms in Contemporary Sacred Architecture

General Exhibition Information
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Daniel Ramirez - No. 17: Contemplation of Silence (1980)
Daniel Ramirez, No. XVII: Contemplation of Silence (detail), 1980. Etching, aquatint and embossing. Courtesy of the artist.

Concurrently with the Radiant Forms in Contemporary Sacred Architecture exhibition, MOCRA presents Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus: An Homage to Olivier Messiaen, a series of etchings by Daniel P. Ramirez. First shown in 1981 at the Art Institute of Chicago, this set of 20 small abstract etchings are a response to Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus, the piano suite by Messiaen that inspired Ramirez and gave his series its name. Composed of strong geometric forms and precise lines, yet softened by nuances of texture, these intimate works achieve a structural quality that makes a fitting complement to the works of Richard Meier and Steven Holl in Radiant Forms. They are shown for the first time in St. Louis on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Messiaen's Vingt Regards.

Ramirez notes, 
I have chosen the French composer Olivier Messiaen's piano compositions, Vingt regards sur l' Enfant-Jesus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus), as the theme for theses prints so that I may pay homage to a man and to an art form that has been a great source of inspiration to me.

In Vingt regards, Messiaen took up the same ideas of Dom Columba Marmion (Le Christ dans ses mysteres) and Maurice Toesca (Les Douze regards) wherein they spoke of the contemplations of the shepherds, of the angels, of the Virgin and of the Celestial Father. Vingt regards, according to Messiaen, is an adaptation of these four themes while at the same time an addition of sixteen new contemplations. In speaking about the contemplations, Messiaen has said that "... More than in all my preceding works, I have looked here for a mystical love, to be varied, powerful and tender, sometimes brutal, responding to multicolored commands." I too, in these twenty intaglio prints, have tried to formulate such a language—a language befitting the sublime nature of the subject.

The first phase of this work began with a small series of pencil drawings and then was extended into the medium of printing. It was in the process of creating these images that an appreciation of the various intaglio techniques (etching, drypoint, electrically-vibrated drypoint, mezzotint, engraving and aquatint) became a dominant factor in the series. This was especially true when I realized that if I ignored certain relationships inherent within the medium, the language I sought would be severely limited. Some of the formal elements, such as line, space, and texture, that were peculiar to intaglio, revealed new possibilities when combined with blind embossing (a depressed element printed without ink). Accepting this interchangeability as a challenge and an opportunity to explore, I found that my visual interpretations often changed dramatically from the earlier drawings. It was during this change and while attempting to synthesize idea and emotion with the process that I experienced the fine line which connects form and expression, when personal meaning and the medium function as one. It was a moment in which I was able fully to appreciate and experience a sense of the self, the medium and the unexpected.

I hope that with these twenty contemplations I have given to Olivier Messiaen the respect and admiration he so richly deserves, and that I have remained respectful of the medium of music which he loves. J.S. Bach labeled one of the canons in his Musical Offering, "Quaerendo invenietis" ("By seeking, you will discover"). Perhaps Messiaen would agree that Bach could have added "the unexpected" as well!
About the artist
Daniel P. Ramirez (b. 1941) resides in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of Wisconsin. Active as an artist for over 30 years, Ramirez was regarded as one of the finest minimalist artists in Chicago in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Ramirez brings to bear the music of French composer Olivier Messiaen, the lines of Gothic architecture, and the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein in his cooly intellectual paintings and prints. Regular MOCRA visitors will be familiar with two paintings by Ramirez that are part of the museum collection: Cælestis/Spatium/Res and Cælestis Præsepe. These large trapezoidal paintings juxtapose seeming mass and with insubstantiality as the canvases seem to hover off the wall and the surface colors dissolve from purple to silver to white. Strict geometry gives way to multiple points of view and meaning.

MOCRA thanks Thomas and Linda Heagy, Chicago, for the loan of these artworks.

Additional information

Daniel Ramirez website

Daniel Ramirez works in the Art Institute of Chicago collection
   (includes additional works from the Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus)

more about Olivier Messiaen: Boston University Messiaen Project

audio samples of Vingt regards sur l' Enfant-Jesus (on

Twenty Contemplations in the media

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