Our friend Maureen Mullarkey offers a review of an exhibit titled “Objects of Devotion and Desire: Medieval Relic to Contemporary Art” that seems, as the cartoon strip puts it “unclear on the concept.” (The exhibit, I mean, not Maureen’s review). For example:
Confusions begin with a press release asserting that the status of reliquaries as art is “compromised by their link to religious superstition.” There goes the bulk of art history: the rock paintings of Altamira, the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Khymer temples of Angkor, Egyptian tomb painting and most of the Western canon until–in historic terms–quite recently. Is Giotto’s fresco cycle in the Scroveni chapel less magnificent for its dependence on the Christian story? Are the formal properties of a 15th century French reliquary arm diminished because it served liturgical purposes? How is the aesthetic worth of a 12th century Limoges chasse altered by having housed scraps of some forgotten saint? That phrase “religious superstition” tells us more about curatorial bias than about reliquaries, in medieval Christendom or any other culture.