February 2013

A lively and curious-minded reader of First Things just forwarded a link to an article on CNET News broadcasting the fact that Benedict XVI’s postings to Twitter ended today, the last day of his tenure as pope. The article is here . The writer, Chris Matyszczyk, displays a bit of disappointment: “It’s hard not to think that the decision to remove Pope Benedict’s tweets was taken by a vacant seat, an apparatchik of absolutism.” It is equally feasible to think that the removal of the tweets was done at Benedict’s own request. Continue Reading
The Sixties, Still Breathing

Once more for emphasis: Contemporary art, properly defined, is simply the art of our contemporaries. The rest is marketing. The trademark product sold under the term contemporary artpromotes an ethos—a posture and set of mental habits— fueled by academia. Contemporary art is the academic art of our time. Its reach is as global as the market that distributes it. And political to the core. Here in my inbox is a press release from CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux. A tabernacle for contemporary art, the museum houses six-to-seven hundred works from the 1960s onward. Continue Reading
Penn Station postcard

Public art is rarely this much fun. Mark your calendars, please! Nick Cave is a lively, unpredictable performance artist and fabric sculptor who trained as a dancer with Alvin Ailey. Widely recognized for his wearable artworks—equal parts folk art and sophisticated funk—he performed at the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies fiftieth anniversary soiree this past November. Now he is bringing a herd of thirty rainbowed horses to graze in Vanderbilt Hall from March 25 through the 31st. If you are one of the 250,000 daily trekkers hurrying through the grandeur of the central hall, give yourself time to stay awhile with Cave’s whimsical troupe. Continue Reading
Venice, Redux

My term “engine of evangelization” might have created some confusion. Let me clarify. God knows, the art world is mission territory. To be sure. But that is not the purpose of Vatican City’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale. No one proposes to proselytize the money changers with a lagoon view at the Hotel Danieli. The Vatican seeks to become a player on the contemporary art scene ostensibly to counter the wider, prevailing drift toward secularization. As Newsweek phrased it, the Vatican “hopes to revive its cultural side” with new interpretations of “tired spiritual art.” Put more candidly, the Vatican is making itself a supplicant, soliciting secular affirmation of the Christian vision from the proxy gods of our time. Continue Reading
Infrequently Asked Questions

What is it about contemporary art—every international art fair’s signature product—that qualifies it as an engine of evangelization? If the Church’s magnificent patrimony of high religious art has not stayed the attrition of Christianity in its homelands, can we expect today’s fashionable brands to speak more eloquently to the heathen art crowd who turn up at these spectaculars? The Vatican has abandoned its earlier attitude toward contemporary art as “the breakdown of art in modern times.” Previously misunderstood as a “debacle,” it is now recognized as a “language.” It follows, then, that the Vatican should learn to speak it, yes? Continue Reading