Jesus is The Man at thought-provoking group show
RAYRAY Gallery530 Broadway St.
Chico, CA 95928
A massive, wooden cross constructed by artist Kyle Delmar is currently housed in the RayRay Gallery. At Friday’s opening of RayRay’s The Jesus Show, viewers could climb upon it and have their photograph taken by Delmar (a frequent CN&R contributor), becoming part of an irreverent sort of passion play, before wandering to examine a collection of drawings, sculptures, paintings, photographs and multimedia works by local and visiting artists that all in some way take the Christ figure as their subject.
Why Jesus? Seemingly, some of the goal of this show would be to engage the viewing audience in a dialogue about religion in public space. What questions can we talk about comfortably? How far is too far in drawing these debates out in this venue?
The tenor of these pieces is largely humorous. In the case of San Francisco-based Dave Fullarton’s mixed-media drawings of various American figures—such as a little girl intently praying for her friend’s iPod to be wiped clean—it isn’t a mockery of faith that’s offered so much as a playful, sarcastic teasing of any moral sanctimony. Is this merely good, old-fashioned, shock-based art, providing the great, boundary-transgressing jolts that avant-garde art practice has traditionally presented so effectively? Or are some of the pieces in fact earnestly religious works, expressive of their belief? Janae Lloyd’s handcrafted paper cutouts of hearts are so delicate and intimate they invite a contemplation that seems close to prayer.
The Jesus Show doesn’t appear to clearly assert one position or another. On the whole, in our diverse society populated with all of our great, rich, variant ways of seeing, we are relatively bad about talking about religion together sensitively and respectfully, and perhaps this show is designed as an attempt to remedy this, simply by making Jesus the focus of the artists’ attentions.
Depicting variations of crucifixes and Christ could on the one hand be a particularly charged move. But by taking up the subject of Jesus the artists are also simply following the long tradition of doing so in Western art and tweaking it for today’s audience. It could be arguing that, far from Baroque sculptures of saints, art’s job is now necessarily removed from teaching its audience about possibilities for spiritual transformation. But it also could be saying art’s job is exactly that. Isn’t this still what we all hope to get by seriously considering a piece of art—to be moved; to be, dare I say it, converted to its purpose? And maybe we can get this through the rather ridiculous, jokey colloquial speech we use to talk to each other through text and digital ticker tapes, as the figures in Fullarton’s drawings do, or by gathering around the sculpture of Dave Sutherland, which mixes religious iconography with the tossed-off ephemeral toys of lost childhood, in the party atmosphere of the gallery-opening, drinking wine and thinking things through, together?
There is a way that every material in our culture right now seems kind of fake and fantastic and unbelievable, and these works largely tap into this fantasy sensibility that dominates our cultural consciousness. Believing is a lot like make-believing, and as anyone with an over-active imagination knows, the process of dreamily making things up can seem fun and ridiculous and somehow sacred as well. The focus of the show also makes one wonder if amid all the fakery of all the forms of media with which we’re over-inundated, even cynical, over-it artists long for something like the purity of a spiritual revelation. Maybe they simply can’t get it, and part of this show is about exploring why that is.
The great accomplishment of the show is that it makes considering these questions enjoyable rather than arduous or boring. Painter Christine Fulton’s fantastical conceptions of Jesus’ ex-girlfriend are portraits that are serious in their skill and imaginative in their subject. They inspire a little bit of reverential awe.