Chapel Americana

THE ARTS ARE AN ENDLESS SOURCE OF CHEAP GRACE. Like the ancient Celtic myth of Dagda’s cauldron, it is the pot that never empties. The most recent ladleful of pop spirituality is Dean Radinovsky’s Chapel Americana, a roughly 13 by 17 foot warehouse version of one of the sacred caves the artist had seen on a trip to Crete.

Dean Radinovsky, Chapel Americana

Radinovsky completed his site-specific meditation space in 2008. His faux chapel is lined with formless abstract paintings, as vague and spacey as the word spirituality when it shows up in press releases. It is lit at one end by light bulbs inside milk-glass coffee mugs. If these were a tongue-in-cheek comment on those cheesy electric votive lights in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I would quite like them. But no. They are offered in earnest, symbols of the kind of nondenominational, transcendental enlightenment available on the grid. In sum, the chapel is a devotional showcase for the artist’s painting. P.T. Barnum tips his hat from the grave.

The chapel is not long for this world. Radinovsky and other artists in the building will be surrendering their not-for-profit spaces at the end of this month to developers. The building, at the far west end of 57th Street, will be razed to make way for the construction of a school. [The artists contracted for their spaces with the understanding that their stay would be temporary.]

Artlog calls the chapel “a jewel box of tranquility,” and headlines it with the phrase “Hidden prayer.” To whom? For what? A chapel is a place for worship. But the only object of worship here is Art and the artist’s expressed identity as a soulful person.

It is rather a shame to lose the thing. It is a wonderful specimen of an art world dip into semi-maudlin, self-aggrandizing religionlessness. It is a diversion masquerading as a reach for profundity. This is spirituality as the art world knows it: a form of light entertainment, intellectually and morally trivial.

Mary Renault’s The King Must Die offers far finer entry to the bloody liturgies of Minoan Crete than this. The caves that Radinovsky visited supported the beliefs that accompanied the serious business of bull-dancing. Ancient Cretans believed that the bull who would eventually kill you was born knowing your name. Chapel Americana confuses tranquility—in religious terms, an eschatological promise, not an historical one—with freedom from the noise of city traffic. And, judging by his website, it is safe to say that if Radinovsky wants his name known, it is by Art in America, not the minotaur.

© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey