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), 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.
Arthur Bruso is an interdisciplinary artist. His work incorporates, variously, three dimensional construction, installation, photography, drawing and painting. He was born in Albany, New York and holds a MFA from the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving his MFA, he moved to New York City and served as Exhibition Director for ArtGroup. His studio is currently located in Jersey City where he co-founded the exhibition venue Curious Matter. Bruso has been a teacher, curator, critic and lecturer, and exhibits widely.
Solo Exhibitions 2009 A Lesser Doxology, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ 2008 ÆTHER, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ 2007 Into the Magic Space, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ 2004 Association Sublimation, The Gallery-Studios, Jersey City, NJ 2000 Open Studio, The Gallery-Studios, Jersey City, NJ
Invitational Exhibitions 1999 Remembering, Responding, Renewing, Visions Gallery, Albany, NY Invitational Exhibition of Small Works, New Arts Program, Kutztown, PA 1998 Post PENNism, Meyerson Gallery, Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA Flights of Fancy, 24 Hours for Life Gallery, New York, NY
Group Exhibitions 2010 The Ecstatic, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ 2009 Nyktomorph, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ Poison, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ 2008 Between Worlds, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ Hocus Pocus, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ Soho Show-off, Penn Design New York Alumni Show, Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York, NY 2007 Apparition, Curious Matter, Jersey City, NJ Minnie’s Message - Steroscopic Views, The Gallery Studios, Jersey City, NJ 2002 Fine Arts Alumni/ae Virtual Exhibition 2002, www.upenn.edu, University of Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground Fertile Ground, The Gallery-Studios, Jersey City, NJ 2001 Recent Work/Sketches & Plans (The Alchemist’s Garden), The Gallery-Studios, Jersey City, NJ Photography Exhibition, Howland Cultural Center, Beacon, NY, juried 2000 Altars and Other Sacred Sites, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, New York, NY Universal Diversity 8 (ATE), Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, New York, NY 1999 Universal Diversity 7: We Create, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, New York, NY. curated by Devorah Sperver 1999 International Juried Show, New Jersey Center for the Visual Arts, Summit, NJ; curated by Lisa Dennison, Chief Curator/Deputy Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum The Landscape, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, New York, NY New Works by Members, New Century Artists, New York, NY
Lectures 2005 Mystical, Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, NJ 1998 Life After Your MFA, Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, Slide presentations, ArtGroup, New York, NY
"Q&A with Managers of Curious Matter, a Downtown Jersey City Art Gallery," Jersey Journal, May 14, 2010 Who’s Who in American Art, 30th edition 2009 WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, Nyktomorph exhibition, aired 10/6/09 “Photography for the Heavens,” The Jersey City Reporter, Jersey City, NJ, 7/19/09 edition WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, Poison, aired 4/22/09 WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, The Line Holds, the Space Beckons, aired 2/13/09 2008 WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, Between Worlds, aired 10/16/08 WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, ÆTHER, aired 7/3/08 WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, Hocus Pocus, aired 4/7/08 WMBC Nightly News, New Jersey, Work of the Penitent, aired 1/8/08 2007 “A Matter of Creativity,” Current, Jersey City, NJ, 6/21/07 edition 2005 New York Times New Jersey Edition, April 3, “Putting Down Roots in the City” Edition Who’s Who In America 2006 Edition Who’s Who in America 2004 Edition Who’s Who In America 1999 November Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), Minneapolis, MN 1998 December Pen In Ink; “Alumni News,” Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA September Berkshire Art Association 1998 Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture catalog; The Berkshire Art Association, Pittsfield, MA 1996 Summer Ignite magazine 1995 April “David Wojnarowitz,”ArtGroup Newsletter June Vice Magazine. February “Hugh Steers”ArtGroup Newsletter
Bibliography Bruso, A and Mingst, R. E., The Ecstatic. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, 2010, exhibition catalog Bruso, A Structure of the Church. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter 2010, a monograph of photographic art work Bruso, A The Line Holds, the Space Beckons. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, 2009 a monograph of photographic art work Bruso, A and Mingst, R. E., Nyktomorph. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, 2009, exhibition catalog Bruso, A and Mingst, R. E. Poison. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, exhibition catalog Bruso, A Into the Magic Space. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, 2008 a monograph of photographic art work Bruso, A and Mingst, R. E. Between Worlds. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, exhibition catalog Bruso, A and Mingst, R. E. Hocus Pocus. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, exhibition catalog Bruso, A and Mingst, R. E. Apparition. Jersey City, NJ: Curious Matter, 2007 exhibition catalog
Research 2009 Venice, Italy to study Titian and Florence, Italy to study the wax models in La Specola 2008 Amsterdam and Haarlem, Netherlands, to study cabinets of curiosity 2007 Paris, France, to study gothic sacred space in Chartres and Notre Dame 2006 Rome, Italy to study the Garden of Monsters, Bomarzo
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