Museum: 12.75”w x 8.5”h x 6.5”d - plaster, paper, cotton velvet, tile, 
grout, glass, steel wire, archival mat board, acrylic paint, wood

My great-grand-mother’s Italy was of the 19th century, a newly unified country, still dominated by the padrone and village farming communities. The many stories she told were of impossible love with the padron’s son, love settled for with the man who saw her in church, and the meddling mother-inlaw who blamed her for taking her daughter’s dowry. She never spoke of large cities like Rome. And although she proudly claimed herself as coming from Naples, she was meaning the commune of Naples, not the city. The city of Naples was merely the port where she boarded the ship that brought her to America. As a child, the Italy I experienced through the stories of my great-grandmother seemed quaint, old-fashioned, and set in a land of rural exoticism.

In art school I learned of another Italy, an Italy that was the center of art history. Most of the treasures of the Western World seemed located there, something my Nonni never mentioned. By the time I was college age, my great-grandmother had died, so I was unable to ask her about the great art of her home country. Since she never really travelled far from her village, she probably wouldn’t have known about any of it anyway, so this Italy of art, architecture and ancient history, was a new place to me. While the romance of my family history had me dreaming of an Italy long ago and far away, the Italy of art had kindled a longing to travel and to see the treasures I was learning about.

It took a long time for me to get to Rome as other life events had intervened. My mother and sister went before me and returned with eyes full of marvelous things, insisting I had to go. My cousin, a Roman Catholic priest travelled there frequently and planned a trip with me that somehow never happened. It wasn’t until after college, graduate school and a move to New York City that I began to explore the wider world. Rome was the first place I went.

I wasn’t prepared for Rome to be like going home - the people looked like my family and they acted like my family. There was something in the architecture that I resonated to as well. Was it the form, the materials or the age? The aura of Rome felt comforting and familiar, like Friday pastina when the weather begins to turn cold. I didn’t have enough senses to take it all in. There was mystery and magic in every shadow. And, just like my mother’s wide-eyed description, art was everywhere.

For an artist, Rome is an immersive saturation of the visual. Every piazza, every street has something to delight the eye. Art and history take on a nearly casual role, it melds into everyday life. In the US, art is precious and expensive. It is closed in silent white box galleries, or idolized in high stepped museums. In Rome, art is part of life. While there are many museums, art also lives in churches, and adorns the piazzas. In the Vatican Museums, I passed through room after room of classical sculpture. One room was devoted to ancient statuary of animals;every inch of the room was filled with them, each on top of the other. So on through the other galleries, everywhere these precious objects were placed behind, above, on top of other objects, or left in dusty corners. It was this casual treatment of what I had come to revere as precious that informed my piece “Museum.” It is how I saw the manifestation of the European interaction with art. Art is something that lives with you. It is to be appreciated and studied, but it is not something to grovel under. In Italy, history and art are long. These hundreds of years of of human activity, inures the soul of those born with it.

I wanted to stay and live in Rome. From my family and upbringing, I innately understood the culture. But, it was the art, architecture and history that I wanted to keep near me. To be able to pass, as a casual, familiar friend, the Pantheon or a Bernini fountain, would be sublime.

Arthur Bruso

Museum was part of the exhibition, “Sanctus” at Curious Matter, Sept 27 - Nov 15, 2015


Christian Brown Two Hands of God, 2013 Oak and copper, approximately 24 X 8 inches
Christian Brown
Two Hands of God, 2013
Oak and copper, approximately 24 X 8 inches
SINCE PREHISTORY, humans have been impressed by skill, prowess, and by those individuals believed to have magical abilities. There was the hope that these attributes might be transferred or preserved in some way after death. It came to be believed that the essence of a person was still present in their physical remains post mortem and that essence could also be transferred to the objects associated with the person. Relics are the physical remains or the objects associated with a person who was deemed special in some way. These elevated items were treasured for the power with which they were imbued and for their ability to transfer that power to the living.
Many cultures venerate relics. Some, like the ancient Greeks, used them for incentives or inspiration. The armor of a fallen hero would be displayed to encourage heroism in living soldiers. Buddhist relics exist to show proof that enlightenment is possible. Other cultures ascribe great power to relics which is manifest though the alleged way the objects affect those who come into contact with them. The Mayans believed that to wear the skin of a jaguar gave one the attributes of the animal. The prehistoric people of Jericho, believed that to recreate the features of dead ancestors on their dry skulls was to manifest the dead back as a protectorate of the family. In many European cultures with strong Catholic beliefs, the parts of deceased individuals who were believed to be especially beloved by God were honored as tools through which the will of God could be channeled to achieve the miraculous. It is important to understand this distinction by the Catholic Church. The relics have no special power in themselves, lest there be a belief in Paganism. Instead, the relics are a way to focus the omnipotence of God and allow His power to manifest in the supplicants’ life.
M. Benjamin Herndon
Scholar’s Rock, No. 1, 2014
Found carburetor; paper and wood tabletop, metal base; six photolithographs on Japanese paper inset in table. Table: 40 X 16 X 19 inches; carburetor: 6 X 8 X 6 inches
With Sanctus, Curious Matter is delving into the freighted waters of the relic and reliquary. The container for holy relics can be as simple as a rock slab pedestal, such as that which displays the bear skull at Chauvet Cave. This simple gesture sets the object apart from the world and notifies the viewer that this is something extraordinary. The container for the relic may also be elaborate and precious, designed to illustrate the glory of heaven to the faithful, as those found in countless churches. The relic can be anything that is perceived to have some special power. The object can be anything, but it needs to be venerated and it needs to have either folk proof of its magical power, or historical value to promote heroism, or patriotism in the viewer.
Lauren Jo Memento Mori: A Bone To Pick  (White and Gold Incisor, Canine, and Molar sets), 2015 Found crayons, wood, foam, 3 X 4 X .5 inches
Lauren Jo
Memento Mori: A Bone To Pick
(White and Gold Incisor, Canine, and Molar sets), 2015
Found crayons, wood, foam, 3 X 4 X .5 inches
Christian Brown’s Two Hands of God, is an example of an object of worship. His ax-like sculpture recalls the ceremonial tools of the shaman to fight evil spirits and protect the tribe from the pestilence of the surrounding mortal world. Like the sécespita[1] of ancient Rome or the athame[2] of the modern Wiccan, it has the appearance of a ritual object whose use may be for blood letting or as a metaphor for the channeling of the energy of the thrust or cut.
M. Benjamin Herndon’sScholar’s Rock, No.1 takes an object, in this case a carburetor, and elevates it from its utilitarian purpose into an aesthetic meditation. As the Chinese scholar’s rocks that it is named after, once the object is placed in its vaunted position, it is up to the viewer through meditation on the form, to bring meaning and value to the piece. Like its oriental counterpart, Herndon has created works on paper as a paean to the object, which increase its preciousness and worth as an art object. Gilbert Hsiao’s Composition with Three Records, is another object of meditation. Here, the artist has utilized the form of the mandala as the meditative focus. The mandala is the gateway into the spiritual realm for the seeker. Hsiao has created his entrance to this realm as a circle within a circle; a tunnel to infinity. It has the additional secret potential of being a kinetic work. It can be placed on a turntable and spun to achieve a hypnotic state in the viewer.
Linda Tharp Sacré Coeur, 2015 Acrylic on wood, 9 X 5 inches
Linda Tharp
Sacré Coeur, 2015
Acrylic on wood, 9 X 5 inches
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a gilded reliquary that contains a tooth purported to be from Mary Magdalene. Whether or not this tooth is in fact from the Magdalene’s mouth can only be guessed or left for the faithful to assert. It is however a true Catholic relic of the first order in an elaborate display from the 14th century. Lauren Jo is channeling the anonymous goldsmith of the Magdalene reliquary with her Memento Mori: A Bone to Pick. Like Egaeus displaying his odontophobia in Poe’s “Berenice”, we are fascinated and yet repelled by Jo’s depiction of the teeth, which she has presented as more fitting as a curiosity, than the Metropolitan’s hallowed tooth. In this same macabre direction of human relics, are Cristin Millett and Linda Tharp. As does Lauren Jo, Millett’s Sever: Agatha’s Offering incorporates a body part, in this case, the breast. St. Agatha was an early Christian martyr of Rome, who at 15 years of age dedicated her virginity to Christ. When she refused the advances of a Roman prefect, he sent her first to a brothel, where she maintained her purity. The madam of the brothel, perceiving her uselessness for her purpose, returned her to the prefect. The prefect, incensed with Agatha’s fortitude, then imprisoned her and began a series of tortures, the most frequently referenced being the severing of her breasts with pincers. Millett depicts this act of Agatha’s travails by placing the breast and a pomegranate on a gilded tray, perhaps with Agatha’s own hands. Both items are potent symbols of the arduous journey of the spiritual.
Linda Tharp’s Sacré Coeur, brings to mind the Shroud of Turin or Veronica’s Veil as a cloth stained with holy blood. It also brings to mind Laura Keen’s dress stained with the blood of Lincoln or the pink suit of Jacqueline Kennedy, marred with the blood of John Kennedy. The red stain is powerful as an invocation of violence and death. Blood is the life force, the vital liquid that keeps us alive. The color red brings that image into focus and reminds us of its preciousness.
Sanctus brings together artists who, regardless of their creeds, venerate the object. We can look upon these works and understand their preciousness and their need to be separated from the everyday world and placed apart. In each it brings us closer to that indefinable humanness of art making.
[1] a ceremonial knife from Ancient Rome used for live sacrifice [2] a ceremonial knife in Wiccan practice used primarily by women



AUGUST 12 – SEPTEMBER 13, 2015
Photographs by Arthur Bruso

Arthur Bruso has captured, in the photographs of Penumbra, that particular moment when we enter a dark room and strain to see. The images are almost completely black. A sense of place is occasionally suggested with a classical sculpture that seems to glow, or a clerestory revealed with a spot of light. The darkness feels solitary, populated only by an occasional marble figure. If anyone were to appear it would be a shock—unexpected in the moment you’re still gaining your bearings.

Once we’ve added up the hints, we can ascertain that the places visited here are the streets and cathedrals of Rome. Absent, other than the details, is sentimentality. When confronted with the everyday marvels of Rome it’s easy to work purely in service of the romance of the place. To either focus on its grandeur or charm. When a subject has been photographed so relentlessly it’s a challenge not to fall prey to conventions. Bruso reignites the possibility that there are still discoveries to make.

The images sometimes appear haphazard, as if we’re glancing around trying to locate an identifiable detail. This quality gives immediacy to the works, they’re in the process of disclosure. The prints themselves are beautifully produced. The blacks have a matte charcoal-like richness. The texture complements the idea that we’re feeling our way along in these cool, silent, echoing spaces. Raymond E. Mingst

A Few Questions for Arthur Bruso

REM: You have a vast catalogue of photographs. You’ve printed hundreds and hundreds of images— these images span almost your entire life. You even have the first images you took with the first camera you received at 6 years old. Something we’ve talked about is how all of these photos are in play in your art practice. For example, in any given show we may be looking at an image you took as a very young person or an image you may have taken just last week. Confounding documentary considerations, like time and place, is a constant in your work. With that, how would you say your imagery has evolved over time?
AB: I’ve gotten better at using a camera. I believe that each camera “sees” differently. I have become more adept at exploiting those differences and using them to advantage in my work. I have also become less and less interested in the figure – I still have figurative work in my backlog, but in my newer work, I find I am more drawn to the landscape or inanimate objects. When I was younger (in college until after graduate school) I had the notion that I would be a Photographer who would make a Difference and a lot of my work was social commentary. These days, I find I am more interested in more esoteric ideas.

REM: For me, looking through the many boxes of your prints and shaping a show is a fascinating process. Identifying a theme or unifying element, selecting particular works and then writing about it, I feel a sense of authorship. However, it’s a collaborative process. Can you speak to what the process is like for you?
AB: A photographer can amass a large body of work in a short time, even when they are like me and are constantly editing – I never print every frame of film I expose. The curator can help make sense of the boxes of prints. I have my own ideas of what I want, but a curator shapes an exhibition which needs a cohesiveness that I may not have in my date defined boxes. Collaborating can be interesting in that way because I get to see my work through outside eyes. It can be frustrating as well, when there is a reinterpretation of the work that was never intended, but in the end, it becomes a back and forth, give and take. The curators I work with only want to show my work in its best light and for that I need to trust them.

REM: While you often talk about the aspects of your photos that aren’t documentary — composition, anomalies of the process that appeal to you, etc. — is nostalgia ever activated for you? Do you think about the when and where and what was going on in your life at the time you took the photo? Does your personal biography ever influence how you use your catalogue of images?
AB: Nostalgia is often a part of the work. I can remember the circumstances and my motivations for taking my first photographs. The image itself is often a trigger for me, and much of my work is about my experiences in a conceptual way.

REM: Can you speak more about that? How your work is about your experiences in a conceptual way…
AB: I don’t consciously plan to document my experiences in my work, but when I review it after it is complete I often see the connection. If you read the essays in my photo books, you will find that the photographic series relate to events in my life. The work may not actually portray what I discuss in the essay, but the essence is there.

REM: I referred to your “catalogue of images”. Is that how you would refer to them? Also, you keep each image in a plastic sleeve and those are kept in grey, archival storage boxes. Do you have a catalogue system so you can find particular images?
AB: I would call it a body of work. The organization is an evolving thing. My negatives I am bringing under control – or at least I have a system for them. My prints are more haphazard right now, but I am working on that.

An Imperfect Grace


EACH YEAR DURING THE HOLIDAYS we look back to the Catholic traditions with which we grew up. Through the iconography of the church, we try to identify some universal truth or cultural relevance that goes beyond our personal experience and instruction and create an installation to celebrate the season. This year Curious Matter presents an icon of the Madonna and Child. Upon discovery at a flea market booth, the icon instantly appealed to us — a handmade devotion, cobbled together from bits and pieces. The wood, brass, glass and printed elements are aged, weathered, worm-holed and patinated to a nearly indecipherable darkness. While the icon is a modest ruin, it has dignity. The thoughtfulness and precision of intention is apparent in its bejeweled and gilded remnants. The seller informed us that it hadn’t left the care of its creator for over 30 years, but who that might have been remains a mystery. Homemade devotions captivate us. If your very salvation is at the heart of your work, it’s not a leap to imagine the maker has put all they have into its execution; their ownpetite voie. For us, that can make a work transcendent. Every detail is significant and wrought with care.
The gestures, colors and compositions of icons are codified and have specific meanings. Most commonly this type of icon depicts the child Jesus seated on Mary’s left as she gestures to him with her right hand. This is her ‘”speaking” hand and she is communicating that he is the salvation or “the way”. The gestures of our icon are unusual. Mary’s lowered hand, held out with her palm up, communicates that she is open to God’s will and accepting of His grace. Her face belies the sorrow of her knowledge of the future — the tragic fate of her son on her lap. The hand of the child is missing, but judging by the position of the arm it was held up in blessing in the traditional pose of the Prince of Heaven and the Savior of Mankind. Most icons are based on originals that were said to have divine creation stories and purported to possess miraculous properties. These icons are venerated as holy relics.
In the Catholic tradition, we turn to Mary for comfort and guidance. She is the compassionate Mother. At this time of year, the qualities of Mary become increasingly apparent in all of us regardless of faith. In venerating the Virgin and Child, or with the lights we hang outside our homes, we declare aliveness and hope in the face of fallow winter. We declare it to ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors — good will among all. Whether or not the icon of Mary speaks to you, there is grace in attempting to manifest a symbol of nurturing, forgiveness and acceptance. The Virgin endures for many as the symbol of perfect grace. For us, we celebrate the flawed, the imperfect, and the ruined evidence of our glorious attempts to manifest a vision of perfection in the face of our limitations.


Eridanus Supervoid

This was my piece that was included in the Terra Incognita exhibition at Curious Matter.

Eridanus Supervoid:
8 3/4 “w x 6” h x 3 1/4” d
paper, rubber, glass, steel wire, archival mat board , acrylic paint, wood

Eridanus Supervoid

During the 2nd century AD, Ptolemy rearranged the skies. He plotted and named many new constellations from stars that were ignored or unseen by the ancients. One such constellation that Ptolemy observed and named was Eridanus.
Eridanus is a meandering line of stars beginning at Orion and winding past Cetus in the southern hemisphere. It is best seen in the winter. Its name transliterates from the Greek as “early burnt,” or “early river.” It is most associated with the myth of Phaeton (the Shining One), the son of Helios. The boy had pleaded with his father to allow him to drive the chariot of the sun. With trepidation Helios relented and the father’s fears proved true. Phaeton was unable to control the solar horses. The team veered wildly from their arced course; sometimes so close to the Earth that it became scorched, sometimes so far away that the land froze. To save mankind from destruction, Zeus hurled a bolt of lightening at the hapless boy and shot Phaeton from the sky. The body of the youth landed in the Eridanus River. There have been many attempts to determine which river is meant by the Eridanus, with the Po in northern Italy as a main contender. However, Eridanus is a river of myth and its location resides in the stories of our past. 
In 2007, modern astronomers began mapping the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is residual energy remaining from the Big Bang. In the direction of the Eridanus constellation was found a huge area, of 50 million to one billion light years across that was significantly cooler than the surrounding area. Immediately, theories abounded about what could be causing this anomaly. One particular theory that had the scientific community excited was that it represented a place where our universe was in contact (or had been in contact) with another parallel universe. Further investigation and research has led astronomers to believe that instead of being an exotic place of two universes touching, the cold spot in question was a massive supervoid in space. That is, a place in the distribution of intergalactic material where there is no matter – not even dark matter. 
On Earth we cannot point to the river that caught the doomed Phaeton. Yet, an immense hole in the fabric of space lies where it is told that Phaeton was knocked out of the sky by the might of Zeus. The Phaeton myth can be interpreted as an ancient explanation for a meteor that exploded before impact with the ground, but an actual hole in space brings new meaning to the story. There are many voids in the universe, each attributable to the uneven distribution of the stars in the universe as determined by the laws of physics. But, once in a while natural forces will interact with supernatural forces to form a new reality. Perhaps this void is a remnant not of a place not yet filled with star matter, but a place where the hands of the gods show their power.


Terra Incognita exhibition

I am exhibiting in this show.

Terra Incognita

MAY 18 – JUNE 22, 2014

TRAVELING TODAY is easy. We plan and we tour. We insist that our destination be picturesque, somewhat exotic, yet still offer familiar food and comforting amenities. We shake our fists in frustration at globalization while expecting it when we travel. We delight in finding the familiar comforts of home in far-flung ports –– as if we’re all just a Coke bottle away from global harmony.Travel in the past was arduous, dangerous, and mainly for the daring or desperate. Stories abounded of distant lands with strange animals and mysterious people. These fantastic stories were corroborated by bestiaries and literature going back to Alexander the Great, inspiring adventurers to hie out and find the truth. What was beyond the horizon to the west, and Cape de Não to the south? It was thought the edge of the Earth lay to the west, and monsters ready to devour the foolish lurked in the southern waters. Those who tried to see for themselves never came back. Still, commerce and curiosity proved too beguiling. The Age of Discovery was born when Columbus braved the western route to find China and the Spice Islands. Instead, it wasn’t an edge to fall off, but the Caribbean Islands and a New World which lay in the way.
The phrase terra incognita was first used by Ptolemy in C. 150 AD in hisGeography to indicate what may exist beyond the known territory. It found popular use with cartographers during the proceeding centuries to indicate, as Ptolemy did, land that was imagined to be in that particular place in the world. To Curious Matter, the notion of exploring uncharted territory of whatever topography seems the very essence of what artists do. Artists often grapple to visually articulate something unseen, unknown, murky or subconscious. Odilon Redon described his exploration of the interior landscape as an attempt to “place the visible at the service of the invisible”. The working of the brain and psyche continues to offer fertile ground for exploration into the unknown. Laurie Anderson, during her NASA artist-in-residency, was inspired by our ongoing fascination with space and its mysteries. She also recognized the link between research and beauty. Contemporary artists are making discoveries and documenting terrain in areas closer to home as well. Matthew Jensen, for example, through site-specific walking projects reveals unknown aspects of the landscape sometimes without leaving Manhattan.

Curious Matter presents the exhibition Terra Incognita, as an exploration of how artists traverse the unknown territory of their ideas; whether that be a physical place, a psychic state or the physical application of media.
Robin Sherin (Building Silhouette #2 and Building Silhouette/Horizontal #10), Lance Morris (Local Positioning System: Los Angeles Roundabout), and Emmy Mikelson (Threshold Composition B.), are all exploring the physical space of the world. Sherin and Morris find a sense of wonder in their well-used urban surroundings. They take their cues from street signs and architectural landmarks and search for adventure in the mundane. Mikelson, filtering her vision through Piranesi, reimagines her neighborhood by turning it back upon itself and 
plotting out that terrain.
Christopher Gideon (Eye) and Robert Gould (Ring of Rust) are time travelers. Gideon revisits his childhood obsession with baseball cards and reinvents them into graceful geometric collages. Gould, incorporating the very soil of an historic site, imbues his work with the essence and energy of the place he is depicting.
Ben Pranger (Countless Rings) finds visual inspiration from what can’t be discerned with the eye. His textual wood sculptures incorporate Braille, spelling out a text for those who have the understanding. Countless Rings conveys a text of Emerson, but the simple form and lush texture invites touching even for those who can’t interpret the projecting dowels.Peter Matthews (A Volume of Ocean Knowledge) infuses his work with the mystical by binding together books that share the subject matter of the ocean. He then soaks them in the sea, hoping that the wisdom the books contain will also absorb the knowledge of the elemental water.Lauren Orchowski (As Seen By A Free Falling Observer), Sarah Michalik (Complex Relations), and Claudine Metrick (Fire Flies) all take us on a voyage beyond this Earth. Both Orchowski and Metrick compose imagery that embraces the mystery and grandeur of the planets, the stars in outer space, and the forces of the universe. Michalik devises an entire swirling galaxy or perhaps a single atom with swirling electrons with her circling glass orbs. Atom or galaxy, the forces that hold the cosmos together seem to converge at the very spot of her work.
Each of us is on our own journey, and often several at once. We follow a physical path, where our footsteps lead us from one place to another, experiencing the world through our senses. We also follow a psychic path, where we are led by our inner selves, sometime consciously, sometimes not, tethered to some invisible pull, always arriving where we need to be. Artists have a further journey, to follow their inspiration and drive to create. For them, this is the true terra incognita, and the most exhilarating voyage of discovery of all.
Essay by Arthur Bruso and Raymond E. Mingst

Arthur Bruso
Elaine Su-Hui Chew
Patricia Dahlman
Brian Edgerton
Johanna Evans-Colley
Christopher Gideon
Margot E. Glass
Robert Gould
Bo Kim
Joshua Liebowitz
Peter Matthews
Marianne McCarthy
Julie McHargue
Claudine Metrick
Sarah Michalik
Emmy Mikelson
Alexandra Momin
Lance Morris
Kirsten Nash
Lauren Orchowski
Gilda Pervin
Ben Pranger
Reparative History (The Dept. of)
Robin Sherin
Allison Spence
Amanda Thackray
Linda Tharp
James Wechsler


Angels & Minimalists

Brochure for Angels & Minimalists

The Angel of Albany, painted plaster, aprox. 20 X 40 inches.
The Angel of Albany, painted plaster, approx. 20 X 40 inches.

Angels & Minimalists

DECEMBER 23, 2013 – JANUARY 31, 2014
THE ANGEL OF ALBANY came to us unexpectedly. Angels are usually a surprise when they appear and this one was no different. We first saw him lying in the back of a red pickup truck. We noticed he held a shield depicting a crown of thorns and 2 spears. There are nine celestial orders of Angels and those who hold shields are of the second order. They draw from God’s power to work miracles on earth. Among their tasks, they help those who struggle with their faith. We don’t know if the Angel of Albany came to us with that particular purpose, but he has inspired this years holiday installation nonetheless.
The annual Curious Matter holiday installation incorporates Catholic traditions and icons. We do this not as an articulation of faith in church doctrine per se, but rather in celebration of the communal goodwill we all, regardless of faith, call upon during these long, cold nights of winter. For us, goodwill is irrevocably linked to the teaching, ritual, and aesthetic of the Catholic Church. While our adult opinions of the institutional church may have gained some critical aspect, the understanding and acceptance of the purity of intention learned in childhood remains.
Our past installations have included hand-stitched embroidery Sacred Hearts (Petite Voie), mass-produced lithographs from the 1800s depicting the Ten Commandments and scenes from the life of Christ (Our Father and the Tiny Guardian), also found objects engaged as symbols of the season (The Relic of 41st Street). All of these were small, intimately scaled devotions. What makes this year’s installation unique is how large it is.
The Angel of Albany is cast in plaster and stands nearly 4 feet tall. It was a gift to Curious Matter from co-founder Arthur Bruso’s family and delivered unannounced by his brother Michael. Like most of the religious castoffs we’ve collected its provenance is unknown. The Bruso’s had gotten it from a contractor who claimed no knowledge of its original home. We suspect it resided in a church in or around Albany, New York. Our current best guess is that it is a Gothic Revival, or Arts and Crafts piece (this would date it c. 1900) from a church whose congregation dwindled and departed; the house of worship deconsecrated, its ornament dismantled and disbursed. The angel was probably one among many in its original setting. (Arthur’s brother George has a matching one.) Still, hanging solo in our gallery, it exudes a particular grandeur.
We sometimes ponder why, with such a passion for the ornament found in churches and cathedrals, we don’t work within that tradition. That’s a fleeting thought. The appreciation of medieval art through to the Renaissance isn’t erased with the thrust of our own or any contemporary artwork. Traditional Christian iconography and the minimalist or post-minimalist vocabulary might seem visually disparate, but we don’t see them as lacking common ground. With that, we’re presenting the Angel of Albany alongside a work by Raymond E. Mingst. His is a charcoal on paper drawing that measures approximately 4 feet square, a simple mandala. The installation brings these works together as an opportunity to read them with an eye towards retaining spiritual possibilities as a valid interpretation of contemporary artwork.
Installation view: left, Untitled, (Mandala, remnant), 1999, by Raymond E. Mingst, 42 X 42 inches, right, The Angel of Albany, c. 1900, painted plaster, approx. 20 X 53 inches.
Installation view: left, Untitled, (Mandala, remnant), 2003, by Raymond E. Mingst, 42 X 42 inches, right, The Angel of Albany, c. 1900, painted plaster, approx. 20 X 53 inches.

Both the angel and the mandala are objects of contemplation and meditation. The angel is a messenger, a guardian; he brings us the word of the spirit and guides us towards the righteous path. The mandala is an opening to the voice of the spirit. The angel stands at the throne of the divine and guards the spirit from evil. He is the light that surrounds the holy and as such, a nimbus personified. The mandala may be used to generate a protective space. It is a symbol of positive, surrounding light. Both angel and mandala offer a visual pathway to the divine.
We return to Christian icons in part because the mythology is reassuringly identifiable while transformatively spiritual. Anne Truitt, Mark Rothko and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, to name just a few artists working with a minimalist vocabulary, produce contemplative artworks that also evoke spirituality. Whether we’re sitting in Rothko Chapel or considering the geometry of Piero della Francesca, there are aspects to these works beyond our ability to name. We use the term spiritual to signify that unknowable, unnameable quality which we find so transcendent.
In celebration of the holidays we offer the Angel of Albany and R. E. Mingst’s mandala as points of contemplation and symbols of the light of the season. Regardless of the vocabulary we call upon to articulate that which we find most significant and worthy, during this time of year, we invite you to join us and embrace the divine in all of it.
Warmest good wishes.
Essay written by Arthur Bruso and Raymond E. Mingst.