Religious works or art, particularly in the contemporary expressions, often are excluded from museum collections, according to Sightings (March 17), the online newsletter of the Public Religion Project.
Church historian and editor Martin E. Marty reports that a Public Religion Project conference on religion and art, attended mainly by artists and museum curators and scholars, examined the question of why “If museums are at ease showing historical evidences of the religious (most Asian, African, Native American, Hispanic-American, and medieval European art is explicitly religious and boldly shown), why are they wary about encouraging and showing twentieth-century examples?” Conference participants spoke about the dearth of artists who devote themselves to religious themes — even as they observed that more artists are introducing spiritual subjects.
Among other discouraging factors, participants cited a certain “tone-deafness” to religion on the part of consultants who overlook the role of sacred expression in architecture, monuments, memorials, sculpture, dance, and painting. Many museum trustees also may personally lack interest in sacred art. Marty adds that it was also noted that the public has difficulty in knowing how to classify art called “religious,” “spiritual,” or “sacred,” who have not been exposed to it. A theme running through the conference was that religious people complain about a secular culture but contribute to it by their criticism and protests of works of artists who tend to be “free spirits.”
Marty concludes that “If the religious get their act together, show some tolerance, and become patrons for works directed to other communities, exhibition planners might return to the sacred scene.”