“Body of Christ,” the most recent installation from the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection is now on view. Engaging the recent controversy surrounding the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire In My Belly” (in which ants parade over a crucifix) at the National Portrait Gallery, the installation presents a range of historical renderings of crucifixes.
Due to the violent connotations of the crucifixion, it did not become a popular source of iconography until the ninth century. “Body of Christ” juxtaposes historical representations of the crucifixion from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and into the present. The objects range in provenance from Germany, Italy and Spain to Latin America.
Each rendering of the object conveys distinct historical, regional and artistic factors at work. A triumphant rendering of a risen Christ in the 17th century “Harrowing of Hell” (from Germany or the Netherlands) contrasts to an contemporaneous Italian rendering in alabaster of the dead Christ. An especially bloody sculptural crucifixion from Spain or Latin America (17th to 18th century) brings into sharp focus the fact that even historical depictions of a sacred subject can offer gruesome, even abject representations of a divine subject.
Anchoring the exhibition, however, are a sculpture and triptych by contemporary Spanish contemporary artist Javier Perez. At the center of the space in “Trans (formaciones)” (2010), a writhing body emerges out of (or becomes consumed by) a piece of wood. The violent contortions scream of of pain and dying flesh. “Trans (formaciones)” deviates from its surrounding strictly representational works, creating a feeling of unease and suffering.
Perez’s other work, “Mascara Mortuoria,” depicts, in three separate works on paper, the head and each hand of a crucified Christ. Red lines course over his flesh, suggesting both his vitality and outpouring of blood. Perez’s works join Wojnarowicz’s controversial rendering of the crucifix to create a discourse on notions of sacredness, representation, suffering and corporeality. Through the contemporary and historical work, what looks like a clean narrative becomes undeniably messy.
“Body of Christ” will be on display through June 16.
Javier Pérez, Trans(formationes), 2010. Bronze, parchment resin. On loan from Blake Byrne, T’ 57. Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.