The Pope’s Art Summit

Pope Encourages Artists to Embrace Beauty
—, November 23, 2009

Pope urges ‘quest for beauty’ as Vatican hosts artists from around world
—New York Times via, November 22, 2009

Photo of the Pope’s Art Summit

Pope in landmark meeting with artists in Sistine Chapel
—AFP, November 21, 2009
World leading Bach pianist, Angela Hewitt, made comments.

Vatican Art Summit with Pope and more than 250 major artists: Anish Kapoor, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind
—BBC, November 21, 2009

262 Contemporary Artists Accept Invitation for Meeting with Pope in Sistine Chapel
— CNS, November 6, 2009 on Pope’s Art Summit
— video clip [1:15], November 6, 2009

Pope to meet with contemporary artists in the Sistine Chapel
— video clip [1:48], November 6, 2009

The Pope’s Art Summit at the Vatican was on November 21st. I looked up coverage and response I could find in the press. I posted links below…. and follow-up above. This story has particular interest to me See my background and bio.], as I am passionately interested in the engagement of Art and Faith. These questions must be concrete and practical as well as academic.

The Pope’s Art Summit is not something only a well-known “leading 250 artists” could have the most to contribute to. Unfortunately, there are many voices that go relatively unheard. However, “Art” has its politics—as does the church—and my hope is that the select group of artists had something of benefit to say. I have not yet heard their responses.

Coverage by the BBC on the story [below] is superficial at best. However their mention of the work by Maurizio Cattelan, “the ninth hour” [image here below], does highlight an important point: artwork which some may perceive as offensive, may or may not mean the intention of the artist is to offend.

‘la nona ora’, [the ninth hour] 1999 © maurizio cattelan

The artist’s intention, in my view, is neither as important nor as ultimately valuable as the dialogue that this work creates. It considers basic theological questions: Are the forces of the heavens, such as meteorites, under the control of an all-powerful God? If so, is there such a thing as divine retribution? What is the actual authority of the Pope? What is the Pope’s relationship to God?

I would be hard pressed to find any leader of the church; catholic, protestant or otherwise, not interested in having people ask these questions. Its exactly what the church should encourage to raise questions to possible answers that the spiritually hungry might be seeking.

If there was any question on the table at the upcoming summit that is of greatest importance, it should NOT be: “How can we create great devotional art today?” Rather it should be, “How can the great contemporary art simulate great devotion today?” I am not talking about devotion to the love of art, rather, I am suggesting devotion to the God of love, and the art of loving God.

Bill Viola to make Vatican meeting

Artnet News

Sept. 17, 2009

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had invited top cultural figures to the Sistine Chapel on Nov. 21, 2009, for a dialogue on the relationship between faith and art. Though theater impresario Robert Wilson, deconstructivist architect Daniel Libeskind and Bono, the pop singer, had reportedly agreed to attend, one artist who had declined was Bill Viola, whose video works are celebrated for their air of intense spirituality. Now, Viola says he has rearranged his schedule and will be at the meeting after all. “The connection between contemporary art and contemporary spirituality is an urgent and extremely important one,” Viola said in a prepared statement. “In these times of instability and conflict there is growing recognition by both secular and religious institutions that peace and understanding will not be possible without the universal language and common vision that only art can provide.  Artists of all cultures and traditions have a vital role to play in envisioning this new future and inspiring the creative dialogue necessary for its success.”

Pope organises Vatican art summit

Monday, 14 September 2009
David Hannah BBC

The Pope has announced plans to hold a summit later this year with around 500 international artists.
The move is believed to be an attempt by the Vatican to mend relations with the contemporary art world.
It’s being seen as an overture by the Vatican to mend relations with the contemporary art world after Pope Benedict XVI condemned a sculpture by German artist Martin Kippenberger of a crucified green frog.

Blog Reaction to superficial BBC coverage:
Pope organises Vatican art summit – BBC gets it wrong


Bill Viola says no to the Pope

Sept. 10, 2009
Artnet News

Pope Benedict XVI has announced an ambitious initiative to try to restore the “special historical relationship between faith and art,” inviting 500 artists, actors, writers and musicians to a special culture summit. The soiree, described by the Catholic News Service (CNS) as “the first of many initiatives aimed at bridging the gap that has developed between spirituality and artistic expression over the last century or so,” is to take place in the Sistine Chapel, Nov. 21, 2009, beneath Michelangelo’s famous frescoes — the better to remind artists of the great art inspired by faith. The list of invited artists will not be revealed until shortly before the event, but names confirmed include U2 frontman Bono, Freedom Tower architect Daniel Libeskind, film composer Ennio Morricone and theater director Bob Wilson.

For the Vatican, this outreach effort seems not to be an academic question, but rather a recognition of the shoddy state of contemporary devotional art. At the Sept. 10 announcement of the culture summit, CNS said that Antonio Paolucci, head of the Vatican Museums, equated contemporary religious art with “bad taste.” “Nowadays,” Paolucci said, “many people live in the dreary outskirts of cities, in ugly houses. They go to church and it’s uglier still!” Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi was, if possible, even more blunt, stating that modern churches “do not offer beauty, but rather ugliness.”
One invitee who will apparently not be participating in this new Renaissance is video-art maestro Bill Viola, who CNS reports “was asked but has already said he won’t be able to attend.” According to a source at James Cohan Gallery, which represents the artist, more than just a scheduling conflict is involved. “Bill Viola doesn’t agree with many of the policies put forth by the Vatican and the Catholic Church and this is his reason for declining to participate.”
Viola would otherwise seem to be a great fit. He is currently in Europe for the opening of a solo exhibition titled “Intimate Works” at the De Pont Museum in the Netherlands, which includes such spiritual-themed works as Observance, which explicitly attempts to synthesize “the devotional painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.”

Pope to meet artists in Sistine Chapel
to rekindle faith-art dialogue

By Sarah Delaney, Sep-10-2009
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has invited hundreds of artists to meet with him in the Vatican in an attempt to rekindle the special historical relationship between faith and art.

More than 500 personalities from the worlds of art, theater, literature and music have been asked to gather with the pope under the legendary Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel Nov. 21.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the meeting was to be the first of many initiatives aimed at bridging the gap that has developed between spirituality and artistic expression over the last century or so.

At a news conference at the Vatican Sept. 10, Archbishop Ravasi said that separation could best be seen in the art and architecture of many modern churches, which he said “do not offer beauty, but rather ugliness.”

He said the church hoped that dialogue could help artists regain the “transcendence” that once inspired the 16th-century painter and sculptor Michelangelo, his contemporaries and countless other artists of religious works over the centuries.

The guest list for the papal encounter is comprised of people who have made their mark in visual arts, architecture, literature, poetry, music and performing arts, including theater, dance, cinema and television.

Most of the list will be disclosed shortly before the event, but a few names of the invited were mentioned at the news conference: Italian film score composer Ennio Morricone, avant-garde theater director Bob Wilson, architect Daniel Libeskind, and Bono, the lead singer of the group U2. American video artist Bill Viola was asked but has already said he won’t be able to attend.

Archbishop Ravasi said the meeting was conceived as a continuation of earlier papal rapprochements with contemporary culture. Forty-five years ago Pope Paul VI had a similar encounter with artists in the Sistine Chapel and some years later opened the Collection of Modern Religious Art within the Vatican Museums complex. And ten years ago Pope John Paul II wrote his “Letter to Artists,” in which he complimented their work and urged a greater cooperation between the church and the arts.

Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, said at the news conference that contemporary religious art has been diminished by “bad taste.” In medieval times, he said, the faithful lived poor and colorless lives, but found brilliant colors and “a glimpse of heaven” by going to churches filled with wonderful works of art.

“Nowadays,” he said, “many people live in the dreary outskirts of cities, in ugly houses. They go to church and it’s uglier still!”

Paolucci said that throughout history the Catholic Church had taken great risks in its patronage of new forms of art, and that the art inspired by the Christian faith had produced much of the world’s greatest art.

Over the last century, however, artistic excellence and faith have separated and it’s the job of people of culture to try to mend the rift, he said. The church, he said, must show the courage it showed in the past in confronting contemporary art.

Archbishop Ravasi said that choosing the artists for the Vatican event was the most difficult part, but that they were selected on the basis of their reputation and awards they had received. The day before meeting with the pope in the Sistine Chapel, the artists will get a special tour of the contemporary art collection at the Vatican Museums.


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