The Strange Place of Religion in Art
The Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art
by Theodore Prescott, Bruce Herman, James Romaine, Bruce Ellis Benson, and James Elkins
The art historian James Elkins tells of his experience as one of four jurors for the 1990 exhibition "Revelations: Artists Look at Religions." It was a big show with several famous artists in it, including Andres Serrano, the maker of Piss Christ. But the jurors also had to slog through hundreds of submissions, looking at slides, reading statements, and scanning résumés. It was a daunting, numbing job. One submission caught their attention, and they were ready to accept it until they learned the artist was a nun, and her work, which the jurors had found quirky, was her vision of heaven. "Oh God," moaned one of the jurors, and they voted it down. Elkins was the only one to vote for it: "I wanted to accept it because it was religious, and religion was supposedly our theme."
This experience started Elkins thinking about "the exclusion of religious meaning in contemporary art," the subject of his book On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art, published in 2004 by Routledge.