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What Should Be Done With Father Rupnik’s Art?

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In light of the emerging scandal surrounding Jesuit artist Father Marko Rupnik, Catholics are asking what should be done with his sacred art.

Some are calling for it to be removed — even destroyed — out of respect for his alleged victims or as a way to censure Father Rupnik himself. Others object that such an approach seems to align with the contemporary “cancel culture” and would logically extend to stripping churches of all art, since after all every artist is also a sinner. Others again claim that art must be judged on its own standards: If Father Rupnik’s art is of value, it should remain, regardless of his personal sins. Still others point to the economic and social costs of removing the artworks: Father Rupnik’s workshop has accounted for projects for more than 200 liturgical spaces around the world, including Lourdes, Fatima and the Vatican. Indeed, it would be hard to find a Catholic who has not seen Father Rupnik’s logo for the Year of Mercy or a reproduction of one of his works on the cover of a missalette, inside the Compendium of the Catechism, or in the Roman Missal. His art is everywhere.

Perhaps we can better understand what is at stake by comparing Father Rupnik’s career to that of an artist who might be considered a 17th-century analogue: Gianlorenzo Bernini. Bernini, like Father Rupnik, did not merely benefit from the patronage of popes and cardinals; rather, both men became the quasi-official image-makers of the Church in their days.

Bernini’s art epitomizes the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII much as Father Rupnik’s art epitomizes the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II. Both popes took a special interest in art, commissioning works to incarnate and diffuse their ideas. Bernini’s art has become the icon of the Counter-Reformation, and it seems that Father Rupnik’s art is better poised than anyone else’s to become the icon of the post-conciliar era.

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Like Father Rupnik today, Bernini too was embroiled in scandal after he attempted to kill his brother for taking up with his own mistress and had her face marred with a razorblade. Urban VIII intervened to see Bernini safely married to a Roman beauty, the affair died down, and Bernini wound up becoming an exemplary Catholic. No one suggested Bernini’s baldacchino over the papal altar at St. Peter’s had to come down, and he remained the world’s most-sought-after artist.

Certainly, one may be a great sacred artist and a great sinner; indeed, great sinners not infrequently have great insight into the ugliness of sin and the beauty of God. One thinks of Charles Peguy’s formulation, “the sinner is at the very heart of Christianity … no one else understands Christianity so well as the sinner. No one, except the saint.” The Church has always admitted the masterpieces of notorious sinners like Fra Filippo Lippi, Raphael and Caravaggio alongside those of saints like Fra Angelico.

But the comparison between Father Rupnik’s alleged sins and those of Bernini, Caravaggio and the rest only goes so far. What is alleged of Father Rupnik are not simple crimes of passion, nor even the habitual breaking of one or more commandments, but something far more sinister. We are dealing with the allegation that Father Rupnik is an apostate priest who, over the course of a long career at the heart of the official structures of the Church, has leveraged his authority as a priest, a theologian and a sacred artist to make himself the prophet of a false Gospel in which sin is virtue and virtue sin. According to the allegations, Father Rupnik not merely habitually convinced others to sin with him, but convinced them that the real sin was not to sin with him and thereby partake in his carnal pseudo-mysticism.

If these allegations are true, is it possible that Father Rupnik’s art does not in some way preach this false Gospel? Art is, after all, a form of rhetoric, and artists express themselves first and foremost through their art. As John Paul II reminds us in his “Letter to Artists” — written as Father Rupnik was completing the Pope’s private Redemptoris Mater Chapel — “in shaping a masterpiece, the artist not only summons his work into being, but also in some way reveals his own personality by means of it” (2). This will be all the more the case with an artist like Father Rupnik, who has enjoyed significant creative freedom.

Father Rupnik was not a Medieval craftsman meticulously executing the instructions of the cathedral chapter, nor was he a scrupulous disciple of a codified iconographic tradition. As then-Papal Master of Ceremonies Piero Marini remarked upon the dedication of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, Father Rupnik’s art, though rooted in Eastern iconography, has “a decisive touch of modernity which adds originality and vigor.”

A preliminary consideration of Father Rupnik’s work raises some red flags. The recurring motif of a shared eye (as in the Year of Mercy logo) might be seen to elide the distinction of persons in the Godhead or the distinction between Creator and created. Then there are the looming, completely dark pupils that characterize his works. In a seeming departure from the iconographic tradition — and a stark rupture with the Western tradition — Father Rupnik’s eyes lack any depiction of reflected light penetrating them. This gives rise to obvious possible symbolic meanings that, even if unintended, tend to distract and alarm the viewer. Christianity is, after all, the religion of the incarnation of the Light of the World, in whom his disciples “beheld the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).

But the eyes of Father Rupnik’s Christs and saints are deprived of all light, almost as if they depict not the Light of the World, but the Darkness of the World, in whom we behold only darkness. One thinks of Our Lord’s saying, “But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!” (Matthew 6:23).

These concerns are not of themselves sufficient to condemn Father Rupnik’s work for heterodoxy, of course. It will be the task of iconographers, theologians and art historians to identify exactly what Father Rupnik’s artwork expresses. Nonetheless, if the allegations are true, it would be surprising if the artwork did not preach a false Gospel. In such cases, the course of action is clear: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema,” as St. Paul teaches (Galatians 1:8). Thus, just as Father Rupnik should be forbidden from preaching and teaching, his artworks should be removed from all 200 sacred spaces they currently adorn. Until they are removed, they will continue to preach wordlessly.

Both Trent and Vatican II call for the removal from churches of artwork that may lead souls astray. Vatican II is particularly clear:

“Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 124).

Removing Father Rupnik’s art may well be an instance of fidelity to Our Lord’s instruction, “If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee” (Matthew 5:29).

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Richmond Art Gallery’s central location makes art easily accessible

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Artist Mike Bourscheid grew up in a “blue-collar family” that he said didn’t have time for museums and art. As his artistic interest grew, the Luxembourg native searched art and museums on his own.

Now Bourscheid is an international artist who is thrilled to have his first solo institutional show displayed at the Richmond Art Gallery (RAG) which sits in the well-frequented, transit friendly Richmond Cultural Centre hub that also includes the Richmond Public LibraryRichmond MuseumThe City of Richmond Archives and the Richmond Art Centre.

“I had to seek art out. It wasn’t easy. Here it is right in front of you. It’s incredible,” said Bourscheid about RAG’s central location by Zoom from Luxembourg recently. “It’s in a community space. It’s pretty cool.”

Bourscheid’s Sunny Side Up and other sorrowful stories along with the video Agnes will be on display Jan. 28 to April 2 at the gallery. Running simultaneously at the gallery is the new Codes of Silence, curated by the RAG’s Zoë Chan.

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“I think when it becomes about the art market often it can become something very elite and something that is hard to understand,” said Bourscheid, who splits his time between Luxembourg and Vancouver as his wife, fellow artist Vanessa Brown, is from Vancouver. “I think art is for everybody. That’s the main thing.

“It’s nice that here people can just walk by and walk in.”

Bourscheid’s new show offers up his signature approach of using handmade costumes, props and crafts to look at and challenge deep-rooted cultural values and relationships.

“I usually say I work in different media,” said Bourscheid. “I work in photography, video, performance, sculpture, drawing and that often it starts with a costume and with my own body then it turns, while doing it, into something. The costume or prop itself decides where it is going.”

 

Sunny Side Up and other sorrowful stories installations feature costumes, props, sculptures and a video by artist Mike Bourscheid. The show runs from Jan. 28 to April 2 at the Richmond Art Gallery.
Sunny Side Up and other sorrowful stories installations feature costumes, props, sculptures and a video by artist Mike Bourscheid. The show runs from Jan. 28 to April 2 at the Richmond Art Gallery. jpg

For the exhibition here, Bourscheid is premiering a new 45-minute, two channel video titled Agnes, which he says is a homage to the hard work of his seamstress single mother. Agnes is her middle name.

“It’s a lot about labour and housework,” said Bourscheid about the 45-minute video accompanied by a recreation of the video’s set complete with the costumes and props from the shoot.

RAG director Shaun Dacey programmed the Bourscheid show and says that for the past few years he has been watching Bourscheid develop, specifically through work with the VAG and Western Front, and was drawn to the “theatricality of his practice.”

“When speaking to Mike I was surprised to find out he had never had a solo exhibition in Vancouver and we wanted to give him the opportunity to play in our space,” said Dacey by email. “With this new project Mike engages familial memory through costume, set-building and video. I am interested in this body of work through his performance of a sort of masculine drag, exaggerating and interrogating this gender performance, as a clown and a cowboy, among other characters.”

The Chan-curated show Codes of Silence features the video artists Haitian/American Shirley Bruno, Aleesa Cohene, a Canadian based in Los Angeles, Caroline Monnet, an Indigenous artist based in Montreal, and American Cauleen Smith.

 

The new show Codes of Silence at the Richmond Art Gallery includes videos from Aleesa Cohene, Caroline Monnet, Cauleen Smith and Shirley Bruno, shown here.
The new show Codes of Silence at the Richmond Art Gallery includes videos from Aleesa Cohene, Caroline Monnet, Cauleen Smith and Shirley Bruno, shown here. jpg

“I think we are accustomed to the voice being a mode of expression. A way of communicating identity. Who we are. But I also wanted to think of ways of communicating that was not so public-facing but kind of delving inward,” said Chan during a phone call. “For example, in Cauleen Smith’s video we see the artist making bouquets. Paying homage basically to someone who has died. So, there is this really ritualistic moment where they are just silently making flowers and we know that this is an act of mourning, but there are no words spoken.

“So maybe it is also kind of saying too that words are not necessarily enough. And inviting the public to consider and focus in on these quieter moments that are more internal and inner-facing and asking the visitors to really listen.”

Chan, who joined the RAG last spring, added that the video presentations will be complimented by art work from the gallery’s own collection.

 

The new video show Codes of Silence marks curator Zoë Chan’s first exhibition for the Richmond Art Gallery since becoming its curator last spring.
The new video show Codes of Silence marks curator Zoë Chan’s first exhibition for the Richmond Art Gallery since becoming its curator last spring. jpg

Chan, like Bourscheid, appreciates the accessibility of the gallery and the deep community roots that have been nurtured with the help of location.

 

“We’re not just getting art aficionados coming to the gallery,” said Chan. “People are stopping by out of curiosity. We are very interested first and foremost in engaging our local communities, but we also hope we are presenting exciting programming that will interest a wide range of people … Any kind of engaged citizen.”

 

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Picsart’s ‘Replace My Ex’ is the most savage AI art tool yet

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AI art is arguably the most contentious topic in the world of art and design right now. For every seemingly innocuous image of a bird with human hands, there’s a debate over the ethics and copyright issues surrounding the tech. But hey, at least now you can replace your ex with a snake!

Picsart, one of our best graphic design tools, has revealed Replace My Ex – a novel application of its fairly standard AI Replace tool. In various examples, ex-partners are transformed into snakes, red flags and, er, baguettes.

Picsart AI Replace

(Image credit: Picsart)

“We’ve all been there,” Picsart says (opens in new tab). “You have a photo where you look super cute, but it’s tainted by the presence of someone no longer in your life. You’d rather not see or think about them, but don’t necessarily want to delete the hundreds (or even thousands) of photos you have together. Whether it’s your ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend or just ex-friend, Picsart’s AI Replace allows you to replace people in photos with virtually anything you can think of. It’s super easy and can be done in just a few seconds with no design skills required.”

Picsart AI replace

(Image credit: Picsart)

Currently available on iOS only, AI Replace lets the user describe brush over an object, then describe in words what they wish to replace it with (“i.e. a snake, a red flag, a dog, a burrito”).

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Picsart AI replace

(Image credit: Picsart)

But it’s essential to note that for many, AI generated art isn’t simply fun and games. As well as questions surrounding its existential threat to artists, there are issues over copyright. Recently, hugely popular AI app Lensa has been accused of spitting out AI “art” with evidence of the original artists’ signature still visible. And then there’s the issue of over-sexualised AI art.

Indeed, it seems new AI art controversies are emerging every day right now. From last month’s ArtStation protests to Getty banning AI-generated images from its library over copyright concerns and people using the tools to copy specific artists’ styles, the tech is causing all manner of disturbance online.

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Work From Abbotsford Photo Arts Club Featured At New Exhibition

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The Abbotsford Arts Council present its first exhibition of the year, opening Saturday, Feb. 4.

The exhibit, Impressions Through the Lens, runs until Feb. 25 in person at the Kariton Art Gallery (2387 Ware St.) and online at abbotsfordartscouncil.com.

An opening celebration takes place Feb. 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the art gallery. Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

The exhibition features photographic works from members of the Abbotsford Photos Arts Club. The work ranges from landscape and wildlife photography to abstract compositions.

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