Release date: May 29, 2015
MOCRA has been shaped by many people and events over the years. “MOCRA Memories” episodes delve into particular moments in MOCRA’s history.
In this episode, MOCRA director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., reflects on three people who played pivotal roles in the creation and development of MOCRA. He encountered art historian Jane Daggett Dillenberger, theologian John Dillenberger, and art historian Peter Selz during his doctoral studies at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California, a leading center of research in the intersection of contemporary art and religion.
Dempsey discusses how these important scholars shaped his thinking and practice in ways that ultimately led to the establishment of MOCRA. The episode includes excerpts from archival recordings of the scholars themselves.
Scroll down for a Listening Guide to the conversation.
Episode 5: Pamela Ambrose and Ena Heller
Episode 6: Ralph Peterson and Jane Dillenberger
Episode 10: MOCRA Memories - The Early Years
Episode 15: MOCRA Memories - Sanctuaries
Episode 17: MOCRA Memories - Consecrations
Episode 20: Pamela Ambrose
Art and the Religious Imagination
Breaking Boundaries: A Conversation About the Art of Patrick Graham
John Handley: “The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso”
Pursuing the Spirit in Contemporary Art: A Celebration of Terrence Dempsey, S.J.
Dr. Jane Daggett Dillenberger (1916–2014) was one of the pioneers in the dialogue between modern art and religion. Dr. Dillenberger began her work in the field of art history in 1942. As Professor Emerita in Art and Religion at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California, she remained actively involved in the “religion and the arts” program at the Graduate Theological Union until her death. In addition to her teaching, she was a curator and a scholar. Her most important exhibitions were “The Hand and the Spirit: Religious Art in America, 1700–1900,” which she co-curated with art historian and museum director Joshua Taylor in 1972, and its sequel, “Perceptions of the Spirit in 20th Century American Art,” which she co-curated with her then-husband, theologian John Dillenberger. Her books include “Image and Spirit in Sacred and Secular Art,” “Style and Content in Christian Art,” and “The Religious Art of Andy Warhol.” Her final book, “The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso,” co-authored with art historian John Handley, was published in 2014.
The interview excerpts on this podcast were recorded in Dillenberger’s home in Berkeley on July 17, 2003.
Dr. John Dillenberger (1918–2008) was Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He was instrumental in forming the Graduate Theological Union which he headed during its first decade, first as Dean from 1964 to 1969 and then, from 1967 to 1972, as its first president, a post to which he returned from 1999 to 2000. He also served as President of Hartford Seminary, Dean of the Faculty at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Chair of the Program in History and Philosophy at Harvard University, and as President of the American Academy of Religion. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, he was a Chaplain in the United States Navy during World War II. He is the author of many books, including “Benjamin West,” “The Visual Arts and Christianity in America,” and “Images and Relics: Theological Perceptions and Visual Images in Sixteenth Century Europe.”
The interview excerpts on this podcast were recorded in Dillenberger’s home in Berkeley on July 18, 2003.
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 where he was introduced to many New York and European artists by a distant relative Alfred Stieglitz. Selz became the curator of the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1958. At the Modern, his exhibitions included the 1960 Jean Tinguely “Homage to New York,” a sculpture that destroyed itself (and started a fire) in the sculpture garden of the Museum. In 1965 he curated a comprehensive exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s work. That same year 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.
The interview excerpts on this podcast were recorded in Selz’ home in Berkeley on July 17, 2003.
Learn more about the GTU Art and Religion program, and about the University of California, Berkeley Art History program.
Maurice B. McNamee, S.J. (1909–2007), known familiarly as Father Mac, was a Jesuit priest and a cherished figure in the Saint Louis University community. He is best known for his successful efforts to save from demolition, and then lovingly restore, Samuel Cupples House, a Richardsonian Romanesque jewel located on the SLU campus. But he was also a beloved professor and mentor.
Father Mac joined the SLU English faculty in 1944 (he was a student of Marshall McLuhan and a colleague of Walter Ong, S.J.). He also became a recognized scholar of Flemish art, producing in 1998 the noted book “Vested Angels: Eucharistic Allusions in Early Netherlandish Paintings”. Additionally, he became the first person to introduce an art course at a Jesuit institution, and helped found SLU's art history program.
|04:00||Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884–1976) and Emil Nolde (1867–1956) were German Expressionist printmakers and painters. Learn more about Schmidt-Rotluff and about Nolde on the MOMA website. Both artists were members of Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), founded in 1905 with the aim of finding new ways of artistic expression free of the strictures of the the traditional academic style, and which ultimately resulted in the style known now as Expressionism.|
Thomas Sokolowski (1950–2020) organized “Precious: An American Cottage Industry of the Eighties” in 1985 for New York University’s Grey Art Gallery. Find the exhibition catalogue through WorldCat. Read brief discussions of the exhibition in New York Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor.
Fr. Dempsey lists a number of authors who influenced his thinking on the religious and spiritual dimensions in art.
David Tracy (b. 1939) is an American Roman Catholic theologian who has spent the majority of his career teaching at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Dempsey drew upon Tracy’s 1981 book “The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism” in developing his dissertation.
Fr. Dempsey studied with Sandra Schneiders, IHM (b. 1936) at the Jesuit School of Theology. Now Professor Emerita, Schneiders specializes in New Testament literature, particularly Johannine literature and biblical hermeneutics, and Christian spirituality, specifically biblical spirituality, feminism, religious life and the theory of the field of spirituality.
Paul Tillich (1886–1965) is widely regarded as one of the most influential Protestant theologians and existential philosophers of the 20th century. Among his key contributions were his method of correlation and his understanding of God as “Ground of Being,” as well as Tillich frequently and extensively engaged with the arts in his writings, and in many ways his work forms the theoretical basis of Christian theology's engagement with modern and contemporary art. Dempsey drew on Tillich works such as “The Courage to Be” (1952) for his dissertation. Information about Tillich and his writings is widely available online, such as this list of Tillich resources. Jane Daggett Dillenberger and John Dillenberger co-edited a collection of writings by Tillich titled “On Art and Architecture.” Find a copy on WorldCat. Tillich is discussed in MOCRA Voices, Episode 6: Ralph Peterson and Jane Dillenberger.
Russell Re Manning gives a brief introduction to Tillich’s thought:
Roderick Ninian Smart (1927–2001) was a Scottish writer and university educator and a pioneer in the academic field of religious studies. He developed ideas on the proper method for conducting the public study of religion, and conducted cross-cultural research on many of the world’s religions.
John Edwin Smith (1921–2009) was a champion of the tradition of American philosophy, and notably the philosophy of religion.. He taught at Yale for nearly forty years and was Clark professor of philosophy emeritus. His many publications include “Reason and God, The Spirit of American Philosophy,” “Experience and God,” “The Analogy of Experience: An Approach to Understanding Religious Truth,” and “Quasi-Religions: Hinduism, Marxism, Nationalism.”
Psychologist Dick Anthony, psychotherapist Bruce Ecker, and author Ken Wilber co-edited the the 1987 volume “Spiritual Choices: The Problem of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation,” which collects essays from a seminar that brought together the disciplines of religious studies and transpersonal psychology to look at spirituality and new religious movements.
In a November 2014 lecture at MOCRA, art historian and theologian John Handley gave a talk based on the book, “The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso”, which Handley co-authored with Jane Daggett Dillenberger.
Jane Daggett Dillenberger published “The Religious Art of Andy Warhol” in 1998. Find a copy on WorldCat. Informed by Dillenberger’s insights into the well-known Pop artist’s work, MOCRA presented Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” in 2001, 2002, and 2006. Watch a Living St. Louis segment about the Silver Clouds at MOCRA:
|10:10||Wilhelm Koehler (1884-1959) was a noted professor of art at Harvard. His scholarship focused on Carolingian
manuscript illumination, as well as Northern Baroque and Modern art. Echoing Dillenberger’s
comments, one student described him as a professor who taught students how to look
at an object: “he would often give a two-hour seminar using one slide.”
See above at 6:10 for a discussion of Paul Tillich.
|13:35||Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) was a German art historian who came to the U.S. after the rise of the Nazi regime. He became the first permanent professor of the School of Historical Studies of the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, NJ. He was primarily a scholar of medieval and Northern Renaissance art, and is most frequently associated with the concept of iconography, that is, matching the subject-matter of works of art to a symbolic syntax of meaning drawn from literature and other art works.|
Patrick J. Quinn taught both Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Berkeley's College of Environmental, and practiced in San Francisco where he and his partner Francis Oda won a number of national and international awards for religious architecture. In ensuing decades he has continued to teach and practice.
The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is the visual arts center of the University of California, Berkeley. One of the largest university art museums in the United States, BAM was founded in 1963, thought its distinctive Modernist building did not open until 1970. Read BAMPFA’s tribute to Peter Selz.
Color Field art is a movement within Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940 that sought a style of abstraction that might provide a modern, mythic art and express a yearning for transcendence and the infinite. Their method was to abandon figuration and turn to the expressive power of color, which they deployed in large fields that seem to immerse the viewer when seen close-up.
In contrast to the dominant Abstract Expressionism style, Pop Art reintroduced identifiable imagery drawn from mass media and popular culture. Rather than the traditional “high art” themes of morality, mythology, and classic history, Pop artists celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life. (See above at 8:05 for a discussion of Jane Dillenberger’s work on the religious dimension in the art of Andy Warhol, a leading Pop artist.)
|18:45||Selz curated a retrospective of paintings by Mark Rothko completed between 1945 and 1960, displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in early 1961. View the press release for the exhibition on the MoMA website.|
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 Rose Esman Gallery. Ambrose was the Executive Director of the 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.”
Read more about Fr. McNamee’s role in the establishment of MOCRA, and about the process of converting the Fusz Memorial Chapel into a museum space.
The prospectus for what would come to be MOCRA cites the Mission Statement of the Society for the Arts, Religion, and Contemporary Culture (ARC)—authored by a group including theologian Paul Tillich and Alfred Barr, the founding Director of the Museum of Modern Art:
Religion in isolation from the arts is starved of concrete insights into the fullness of human life. Art gives religion the eyes to see man [sic] in all his dimensions, the ears to hear the voice of his inner life, and the instruments with which to communicate with man in his actual condition. At the same time, our knowledge of the past suggests that the arts excel when realized within that transcendent, unifying vision which is the heart of religion.
The prospectus also recognizes that the actual situation was more of “an uneasy relationship between organized religion and the visual arts,” “often characterized by suspicion and misunderstanding,” with the result that “one of our most important avenues to religious experience, the imagination, has been deprived of contemporary, evocative images that point to God.”
The prospectus offers an alternative vision. It takes note of “a growing number of artists” who have “created art that reflects faith expressions of, or explorations into, the religious dimension. . . . As diverse as these expressions are, they all are marked by a sense of profound respect and genuine awe.”
The discussions at the ARC conference held at MOCRA in November 1992, titled “The Artist and Sacred Space,” reflected the excitement among the participants about the imminent launching of MOCRA. Artist Eleanor Dickinson remarked, “Art of the spirit and the soul is not very saleable. This museum is something we’ve needed for a long time to counter the excessive commercialization of art.” Over 120 people from across the country-St. Louis, New York, Washington, Chicago, Syracuse, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston-attended the conference, including about 30 members of ARC. Read more about the ARC conference held at MOCRA.
Click the thumbnail to read Peter Selz’ letter about MOCRA in the February 1993 issue of ARTnews.