6 Times Artists Flirted with Christian Imagery, As On View in This Exhibition

April 20, 2019

Throughout art history, religion and its symbolism and iconography have served as a point of reference for a range of artists. In choosing religious topics, they turned our attention to areas of our life, both private and public, impacted both directly and indirectly by the church and religion itself.

The latest exhibition organized by the Hall Art Foundation will explore the use of Christian iconography in contemporary art. Hosted at its Schloss Derneburg location, throughout the cloister of the former monastery, The Passion will bring together around 100 works from the Hall and Hall Art Foundation collections, including paintings, sculptures videos, photographs and works on paper by twenty-nine artists.

At the same time, the exhibition pays homage to Schloss Derneburg’s long ecclesiastical history. Once a fortified dwelling, the cloister served as the home of various religious orders, from Augustinian nuns and Cistercian nuns, to becoming a Lutheran establishment for “young ladies” and later becoming secularized. Since the beginning of the 19th century, it was in possession of the Münster family, who used it as a showcase for their extensive collection of art and other artifacts. It was acquired by George and Elke Baselitz in 1974, who turned the cloister into their home and studio for the next thirty years. In 2006, it was sold to the Halls and reunited with the adjacent domain, both undergoing extensive renovations to become a public museum space for the Hall Art Foundation.

The exhibition The Passion will be on view at Schloss Derneburg in Holle, Germany until October 2019.

The exhibition will includes works by Dan Attoe, Georg Baselitz, Joe Bradley, Rafal Bujnowski, Niki de Saint Phalle, Wim Delvoye, Elmgreen and Dragset, Dan Flavin, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst, Martin Kippenberger, Guillermo Kuitca, David LaChapelle, Nate Lowman, Markus Lüpertz, Aleksandra Mir, Yoshitomo Nara, Hermann Nitsch, Alessandro Pessoli, Jack Pierson, Arnulf Rainer, Anselm Reyle, Gerhard Richter, Wilhelm Sasnal, Peter Saul, Andres Serrano, Tony Tasset, Bill Viola and Andy Warhol. We bring you six highlights to enjoy!

Featured image: Andy Warhol - Christ $9.98 (positive) (detail), 1985-86.

Gilbert and George - Christian England, 2008

The art world's most controversial double act, Gilbert and George created a work depicting the crucified body of Jesus covered in the Union Jack. Titled Christian England, the 2008 work stirred up a debate over religion and patriotism. As George explained, this was the first time in the history of Christianity that people see a halo made of the Union Jack, as well as Jesus's clothes made of the flag. They have also altered the shape of the flag in the work, describing it as "more democratic and no longer asymmetrical."

Featured image: Gilbert & George - Christian England, 2008. Comprised of 28 inkjet prints on archival paper dry mounted on 100% cotton rag 100 x 208 in. (254 x 528 cm). Hall Collection, courtesy Hall Art Foundation © the artist.

Andy Warhol - Christ $9.98, 1985-86

In the 1980s, Andy Warhol began revisiting the major subjects of his 1960s work, including the newspaper adverts which informed his earlier paintings. During this period, he produced a series called Ads and Illustrations, mostly black and white works of celebrities created by tracing the original adverts by hand, which creates a looser, graphic quality.

Created during the depths of the Cold War, these works tackle three major themes - war, death and religion. Raised a Catholic, Warhol often employed religious imagery, including this depiction of Christ from 1985-86. A part of the positive/negative diptych, the work also echoes the Cold War Conflict.

Featured image: Andy Warhol - Christ $9.98 (positive), 1985-86. Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 80 x 72 in. (203 x 183 cm). Hall Collection, courtesy Hall Art Foundation © the artist

Damien Hirst - Rehab is for Quitters, 1998-99

Created in 1989-99, Damien Hirst's Rehab is for Quitters is comprised of a human skeleton, lying horizontally in a position reminiscent of the crucifixion, bisected by two glass panels. Two ping-pong balls affixed with images of retinas are held aloft by a stream of air directly above the skeleton's eye sockets.

It is part of Hirst's series Mental Escapology, which references Hirst statement that the “idea of a perfect artwork would be a perfect sphere in the centre of a room. [...] it would just be there, floating without strings or wires." Hirst stated that cartoonish ping pong eyes provide the necessary humor to the work, almost as "a child’s way of looking at death."

Featured image: Damien Hirst - Rehab is for Quitters, 1998-1999. Plastic skeleton on glass cross with ping pong balls and compressors 31-1/2 x 83 x 106 in. (80 x 211 x 270 cm). Hall Collection, courtesy Hall Art Foundation © the artist

Martin Kippenberger - Fred the Frog Rings the Bell, 1990

Part of Martin Kippenberger's most important and controversial series which had the frog as a recurring character, Fred the Frog Rings the Bell from 1990 shows a frog hanging from a cross. The entire piece is made from wooden elements that recall the easels that are such a traditional attribute of the artist. Kippenberger created the cartoonish, fairytale frog and submitted it to this martyrdom with its overt, indeed emphatic, religious connotations, stirring controversies.

The work refers to his 1988 Fred the Frog in which the artist's name was emblazoned across the canvas near the cross-bar. In this way, the frog character serves as one of his alter egos.

Featured image: Martin Kippenberger - Fred The Frog Rings The Bell, 1990. Carved wood, steel nails; Edition 7/7 51 x 43 x 10 in. (130 x 110 x 25 cm). Hall Collection, courtesy Hall Art Foundation © the artist

Joe Bradley - On the cross, 2008

The American painter Joe Bradley emphasizes the use of as little effort and material as possible in order to depict complex expressive narratives. The work On the Cross from 2008 is part of the Schmagoo paintings, which combine the artist's endless and playful self-examination and a celebration of his immersion in popular culture. Drawn with grease pencil on white unprimed canvas, these works shed light on the paradox between the modernist impulse towards a raw source of art in the "primitive" and the seamless presentation of a resolved art object.

Featured image: Joe Bradley - On The Cross, 2008. Grease pencil on canvas 100 x 65 in. (254 x 165 cm). Hall Art Foundation, courtesy Hall Art Foundation © the artist

Hermann Nitsch - Pour-painting with painting-action-shirt, 2009

The Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch has always had a fascination with the intensity of religious feelings and taboo images, nudity and bloody scenes. With his Orgies Mysterien Theater, he staged nearly 100 performances which involved animal carcasses, slaughters, religious sacrifices, crucifixion, gallons of blood and flesh. With theatrical performances resembling pagan rituals or satanic rites and performers soaked in vital fluids accompanied by music, dancing and active participants, it is often suggested that these shows exemplify cultures’ fascination with violence and intense religious feelings. This is also reflected in his blood colored splash paintings.

Featured image: Hermann Nitsch - Schuettbild mit Malhemd (Pour-painting with painting-action-shirt), 2009. Acrylic, blood on burlap with fabric 201 x 300 cm (79 x 118 inches). Hall Collection, courtesy Hall Art Foundation © the artist

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