Sixty years ago, Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum as a “temple of the spirit.” Students in “Religion and Modern Art” recently explored that temple, as well as several other places where modern art meets spirituality in New York City, when Associate Professor of Religious Studies S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate led the class across Manhattan for two days.
At the Guggenheim, students wandered the spiraling galleries looking at the major exhibition on Hilma af Klint, one of the first artists to break from representation and create abstract paintings. Like Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, and many other artists of the early 20th century, af Klint was influenced by the hybrid religious systems of theosophy, and her paintings were expressions of this religious movement.
After touring the Guggenheim, the group walked across Central Park to visit a small exhibition on the work of Betye Saar at the New York Historical Society. Saar’s assemblages draw on a history of racist imagery as she reappropriates them for a renewed spiritual power of strength and perseverance.
The second day included a visit to the New Museum on the Lower East Side where the class viewed exhibitions by Jeffrey Gibson and Nari Ward. While there, they spent time talking with Hannah Grace O’Connell ’14, who has been the events manager at the museum for the past two years. O’Connell discussed what she has been doing since graduating and some of the ways a religious studies concentration has been useful to her.
The tour concluded at historic Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park. André Daughtry, community arts minister of the church, told students about the history of the church, highlighting its three pillars of justice, art, and worship. The church has long been at the forefront of social action and a place for avant-garde art performances.