© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

MOCRA Installs First Site-Specific Exhibition

An overview of Rebecca Niederlander's installation at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at Saint Louis University in St. Louis.
Jeffrey Vaughn
Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

After 20 years, the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art has its first site-specific installation.

“During our first 20 years, we had thematic shows that often included many artists,” museum director the Rev. Terry Dempsey told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter. “Each one of the works that is in place over at MOCRA right now is essential to the other works that are there. This is very special.”

That work, “Axis Mundi,” was created and installed by Rebecca Niederlander, who grew up in St. Louis but now lives in California. Niederlander said the installation works specifically with the MOCRA building, a former chapel used by Jesuits at Saint Louis University.

“The space is this former place for contemplation and a place where the philosophical side of the Jesuits was explored, and I think that the spirit of that history is still very rich in the space,” she said. “There is a beautiful tile floor in the space that leads into the center of it, and it is a space that is rich for looking at the center of things — the notion of does the center hold. For me personally, an artist who also looks very extensively at notions of family, the notion of what centers us individually is also of import.”  

Each piece in the installation has its own axis mundi, Latin for center of the world, Niederlander said.

“In this exhibition, I took that notion of what is the center of our universes and expanded it,” she said. “So the ‘Axis Mundi’ exhibition incorporates a number of works, which all peruse that theme, but which all then contribute to a larger axis mundi. The center piece is its own kind of axis mundi, and then the works around it all have their own axis mundi within them but they surround the center one and create what you might call ripples — a ripple effect.”

The building’s architecture contributed to the exhibit’s design, including unmasking stained glass windows that have been covered since the museum opened.

“The way the architecture is set up in that space, when you walk in, you turn a number of corners and it’s fascinating,” Niederlander said. “You go up a set of stairs and you turn and then you turn again, so you don’t just walk straight into the space and discover it all. The space very much reveals itself over time, and the side chapels also provide for these contemplative moments that one can experience individual works of art.”

Two of the large stained glass windows were uncovered, then covered with illusion film, a laser-etched cover that allows light to pass through while blurring the image behind it.

“We’re creating a work of art that insists that you raise your chin and you look upward,” Niederlander said.

“People have said this is one of the most contemplative places they have seen,” Dempsey said.

Related Event

"Axis Mundi" 

  • When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays through Dec. 14, 2014
  • Where: Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Mall Blvd., Saint Louis University
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.