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MOCRA retrospective indicates a top collection

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 30, 2008 - The Museum of Contemporary Religious Art has organized two special exhibits designed to mark the institution’s 15th anniversary.

The first of these, “Pursuit of the Spirit,” now on view, is a mini-retrospective of the museum’s major exhibitions, and it provides the perfect opportunity to review the thought-provoking kind of work MOCRA specializes in presenting.

The exhibition is subdivided thematically (“The Sublime,” “Mother and Child,” “Sacred Spaces,” etc.), a strategy that works far better than attempting to recreate the original exhibitions. It also allows for some magical juxtapositions, as in the grouping of abstract works by Robert Kostka and Tobi Kahn with a dramatic C-print by DoDo Jin Ming.

The “Image and Text” theme is eloquently articulated in works by Shahzia Sikander, a tiny illuminated manuscript by Bernard Maisner, and Dean Kessmann’s “Rorschach Bible” from 1996. (Kessmann, formerly of St. Louis, is in good company with other local artists, including Gary Passanise, Tim Liddy and Sue Eisler.)

Works not to be missed include German artist Lore Bert’s two lovely collages of imaginary church plans on Japanese paper; Junko Chodos’ powerful three-panel “In the Forest of Amida Buddha No. 16”; and a video documentation of Lewis deSoto’s “Paranirvana,” the enormous inflating-deflating Buddha that MOCRA presented in 2000.

Most of the works on view are from the museum’s collection, which, judging from this exhibition, looks to be among the better art collections in St. Louis.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. 

Ivy Cooper
Ivy Cooper is the Beacon visual arts reviewer and a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.