Curious Trends


Religious icons and decorative design art

The popularity of religious traditions and the way religious icons are presented has changed dramatically in recent decades. For centuries, diverse cultures around the world expressed their beliefs through paintings and sculpture that has remained true to long established conventions of style. Now art that hitherto seemed blasphemous is heralded as enlightened, thought provoking and full of symbolic meaning. Traditional religious icons are being re-worked into contemporary decorative pieces and modern art increasingly incorporates sacred symbols, moral and spiritual messages from the past.

A magnificent array of altar crosses and processional crucifixes can be seen at London's Victoria and Albert Museum:

Below is The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c. 1510-15) from the workshop of Andrea della Robbia. Large scale groups in various materials were used as focal points for devotion in chapels and churches throughout Europe. Terracotta was particularly popular in Tuscany and around Bologna. These figures were constructed separately and Mary Magdalene, on the right, is now in several pieces - probably shattered during the first firing. This prevented a second firing to secure the glazes, so the figure was painted instead. This can also be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum London, next to the bookshop, and may be as popular in 2011 as it was in the early 16th century. Ecclesiastical icons are much sought after at architectural salvage yards.

The traditional Buddha has become the darling of interior designers - the white (soapstone?) variety is currently in vogue.

Church icons, especially crucifixes and Madonnas have become popular home accessories. Although these are becoming rarer, they can still be found at antiques fairs and auctions.

The latest fashion for curiosity cabinet style collecting, combined with the fascination for all things Victorian has resulted in the presentation of collections of icons and relics from sacred sites and pilgrimages inside antique domes. These are in the style of funeral domes that were commonly placed by gravesides in until the beginning of the 19th century.

Kitsch retro religious icons include quirky tourist relics, like these shell crosses seen at the Museum of Everything’s Peter Blake curated exhibition #3.

Kitsch modern items include devotional style candles and, in jewellery, crosses and rosaries are experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

Whilst traditional religious artefacts, including whole Buddhist shrines, make for exotic objets d’art, some of the more contemporary pieces are much more questioning in their intent.

Jiwon Wang’s sculptures examine the contradictions within a culture – the frictions between Korea’s past traditions and technology-driven economic expansion – as serene Buddhist figures are augmented and ‘improved’ with an array of mechanical appendages of dubious functional worth.

Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow Tapestry is inspired by the elaborate imagery of early 20th century Sumatran batik fabrics. The work measures 15 x 3 metres and can be read from left to right – from bloody childbirth, through the seen stages of man, ending in death. The tapestry is littered with brand names (McVities, Ann Summers, RBS, Vodafone and Sony to name but a few) to emphasize their significance in the modern world and the almost religious symbolism they have. In an interview with Ponystep, Perry says, “It’s the idea of the futility of life and our misguided relationship to brands and how they are almost like little emotional away stations. When you read the names you have associated feelings that come along with them and that can play off against the image that I’ve put with them, and you can see that as funny or unsettling or whatever. I wanted to make something darkly decorative – so there’s the twentieth century passing by as well as our lives and the brands that we all recognise and can associate with different times in our lives.”

British artist, Mat Collishaw, is also known for his use of crucifixes and religious imagery. For his first solo exhibition in Berlin in 2009, he presented a digital manipulation of Francis Bacon's Pope Innocent X, from a Velazquez original. Entitled The End of Innocence and projected on a monumental scale, Collishaw's rendering of the iconic portrait presents a densely striated image, its forms constantly dissolving and reconstituting in the manner of the 'digital rain' popularised by the Matrix film trilogy.

Many works by emerging young designers reflect the complexity and contradictions of modern values versus old style religious traditions, like the Primeval Allegory by Tereza Zelenkova at the Royal College of Art (above). Also at the RCA, Brian Dooley’s display was reminiscent of the sad floral displays often seen in the entrances of modern church buildings. On closer inspection, the photograph on the shelf is of a bikini-clad model, alluding to man's baser, animalistic instincts.

This beautifully intricate representation of Ganesh was seen at London Tent. Unfortunately, there are no details of the artist or the work, so let us know if you have any more information on this.

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