This week in New York, the “One Faith: East and West” art exhibition is at the Catholic Center of NYU, after stops in Beijing and Moscow. The exhibition is a concrete expression of Christian unity, and the artists are from several different countries and confessions: Roman and Byzantine Catholic, Russian and Romanian Orthodox, and Protestant. On June 27, the artist Clement Fuchs will present on the “Hermeneutics of Continuity in Sacred Art.” This lecture will attempt to show the importance of “working within tradition on the one hand and avoiding a limited, backward looking historicism on the other.”
Sculpture, icons, paintings, and drawings are all on display. The wide variety of nationalities and confessions add to the diversity of the exhibition, and draw the viewer into the catholicity of beauty. These artists have not fallen victim to the cheapness of shock art or the exaltation of novelty for its own sake. Rather, they have—according to their unique style and individuality—reinvigorated the wisdom of the traditional forms, and brought them fresh and new into the current conversation.
There is a certain pessimism among conservative Christians that beautiful art has stopped, and the best we can do is preserve what past ages have given us. This is roundly contradicted by what I have seen at the “One Faith” exhibition. There is delight in seeing the old forms reawakened by contemporary, creative minds. These works of art are not examples of saccharine piety, nor embarrassing attempts at being current. They are powerful instances of faith meeting art in the modern world. While one exhibit of beauty will not save the world, “One Faith: East and West” will reveal to the viewer the one who has already saved it.
Image Credits: Clement Fuchs, “Head Study of an Apostle”; Carl Fougerousse, “Bust of Our Lady”; Tomas Labanic, “Transfiguration.”
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.