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Episode 10: MOCRA Memories - The Early Years

Release date: Jun. 12, 2014

MOCRA has been shaped by many people and events over the years. “MOCRA Memories” episodes delve into particular moments in MOCRA’s history.

In 2013, MOCRA celebrated its twentieth anniversary, a perfect time to talk with people who have been affiliated with the museum over the years: those who had a hand in MOCRA’s genesis, artists who have participated in exhibitions at MOCRA, and other participants in the broader dialogue between contemporary art and religion and spirituality. In this episode we bring you conversations and reflections with some of the folks who were with MOCRA at the beginning (and before).

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Related Exhibitions

Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art, Part One
Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art, Part Two – Three Major Installations

Related Episodes

Episode 3: Thomas Sokolowski
Episode 5: Pamela Ambrose and Ena Heller
Episode 8: Mary Reid Brunstrom
Episode 11: Tobi Kahn
Episode 14: MOCRA Memories - Berkeley
Episode 15: MOCRA Memories - Sanctuaries
Episode 17: MOCRA Memories - Consecrations
Episode 20: Pamela Ambrose
Pursuing the Spirit in Contemporary Art: A Celebration of Terrence Dempsey, S.J.


Producer: David Brinker
Recording Engineer and Editor: Mike Schrand
Host: Linda Kennedy
Theme and Incidental Music: Stephen James Neale
Listening Guide: David Brinker

Featured Guests

Pamela Ambrose

Pamela Ambrose was involved with the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in its formative years in the 1980s, implementing special events and collector’s programs. She also served as director of two prominent New York galleries: the Monique Knowlton Gallery and the Rosa Esman Gallery. Ambrose was the Executive Director of Samuel Cupples House at Saint Louis University from 1996 to 2004. She served from 2005 to 2016 as Director of Cultural Affairs at Loyola University in Chicago and the Founding Director of the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA).

MOCRA Voices, Episode 5 features Ambrose and former Museum of Biblical Art Director Ena Heller, and Episode 20 features a conversation with Ambrose on the occasion of her retirement. A talk by Ambrose is part of the 2009 MOCRA panel discussion, “Art and the Religious Imagination.”

Thomas Sokolowski

A native of Chicago, Thomas Sokolowski (1950–2020) received his B.A. from the University of Chicago, and earned his master's degree and did doctoral work in art history at New York University, where he specialized in late 17th- and early 18th-century Italian art. In the early 1980s Sokolowski was curator of European painting and sculpture, and later chief curator, at the Chrysler Museum. In 1984 he was named Director of New York University's Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, where he curated a number of important exhibitions.

Sokolowski became Director of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1996, a post he held for 14 years. During his tenure at the Warhol, Sokolowski established a reputation for inventiveness in exhibitions and programming, as well as for civic activism. Sokolowski left The Warhol at the end of 2010. In 2017 he was named Director of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. In addition to his work in museums, Sokolowski taught at a number of universities, including New York University, and was a board member of Visual AIDS.

Sokolowski is featured in MOCRA Voices, Episode 3, which includes excerpts from Sokolowski’s 1994 talk at MOCRA, “The Changing Face of AIDS.”

Mary Reid Brunstrom

In 1988 Mary Reid Brunstrom founded Austral Gallery in St. Louis. In doing so, she was among the first to introduce work by living Australian artists, including Aboriginal art, to North American audiences through exhibitions, programs, and publications. She was involved with two exhibitions at MOCRA, “Ian Friend: The Edge of Belief”, and the “Utopia Body Paint Collection”. After closing Austral Gallery in 2000, Brunstrom embarked on studies in art history. She earned a Masters in Liberal Arts (2005) followed by a Masters in Art History (2006) from Washington University in St. Louis and is currently completing doctoral studies in art/architectural history from the same institution. Her dissertation focuses on 1950s Catholic Church architecture in the Midwest and developing new frameworks for evaluation of mid-century modernist architecture.

Brunstrom is featured in MOCRA Voices, Episode 8.

Ted Wood

Ted Wood, Professor of Studio Art at Saint Louis University, is a distinguished representational painter, with a particular interest in the human figure and landscape. He has exhibited widely both in the United States and abroad, and in 1983 he was invited to participate in the International Festival of Contemporary Art at the Grand Palais in Paris.

Jeffrey Vaughn

Jeffrey Vaughn, Professor of Art at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois, is a painter and photographer who regularly exhibits with the Fischbach Gallery in New York City. Previously he worked at Saint Louis University as an adjunct professor of printmaking, and art installer for MOCRA. Vaughn has photographed many of MOCRA’s exhibitions and events over the years.

Read more about the renovation of Fusz Memorial Chapel into MOCRA in three MOCRA blog posts: “Genesis,” “The Artist and Sacred Space,” and “Sanctuaries.” Learn more about the exhibition “Body and Soul: The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater”.

Tobi Kahn

Tobi Kahn is a New York-based painter, sculptor, and educator, who for thirty years has been steadfast in his commitment to the redemptive possibilities of art. Kahn’s art is strongly influenced by his Jewish faith as well as by artists such as Albert Pinkham Ryder, Georgia O’Keefe, Arthur Dove, and Mark Rothko. He was selected as one of nine artists included in the 1985 Guggenheim Museum exhibition, “New Horizons in American Art.” Since then his work has been shown in over forty solo exhibitions and over sixty museum and group shows. His works are found in major museums, corporate, and private collections. He has also been commissioned to create contemplative sacred spaces. Kahn has taught on the faculty of the School of Visuals Arts in New York City since 1985.

MOCRA presented two major traveling exhibitions by Kahn. “Metamorphoses” included paintings evocative of landscapes and seascapes, and scientific imagery. The second exhibition, “Avoda: Objects of the Spirit”, presented Jewish ceremonial objects Kahn has created for family and friends.

Dr. Peter Selz (1919–2019) was a renowned curator of contemporary art as well as a historian of German Expressionism. He arrived in the United States in 1936, and in became the curator of the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1958. In 1965 he was called to the University of California, Berkeley to found the university’s art museum. Peter Selz served as its director from 1965 to 1973. Selz also taught at Berkeley from 1965 to 1988, when he was named Professor Emeritus. He was known more recently for provocative, politically charged exhibitions like “The Art of Engagement,” which showed at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in 2006. Selz curated two exhibitions shown at MOCRA, “Tobi Kahn: Metamorphoses” (1998), and “Patrick Graham: Thirty Years - The Silence Becomes the Painting” (2012). He spoke on “Degenerate Art” in a talk at MOCRA in 1995, and appeared on a panel discussing the art of Patrick Graham in 2012.

Jane Blaffer Owen (1915–2010) dedicated much of her life to the small town of New Harmony, Indiana. Situated on the Wabash River, New Harmony was the site of two 19th-century utopian communities. Under Owen’s guidance and with her patronage, it also became home to a rich body of contemporary art and architecture by figures such as Richard Meier, Jacques Lipschitz, Philip Johnson, and Stephen DeStaebler—a collection now known as the Jane Blaffer Owen Sanctuary. Read a remembrance of Jane Owen by Fr. Dempsey.

Jim Morphesis

Jim Morphesis lives and works in Los Angeles, California. His paintings have been shown in forty-two solo exhibitions and in more that one hundred and thirty invitational group exhibitions in museums and galleries that include: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Queens Museum of Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessalonika, Greece. Morphesis’ paintings can be seen in the permanent collections of more than twenty-five museums including: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Oakland Museum of California, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and MOCRA. A forty-year survey exhibition of Morphesis’ paintings will open at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in January of 2015.

Morphesis mentions several past MOCRA exhibitions, including “Sanctuaries: Recovering the Holy in Contemporary Art”, “Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS”, “Andy Warhol: Silver Clouds”, and “Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion”.