If an evangelical place hosts a work by Andy Warhol (and others), Evangelical Focus

Just last week, the famous Marilyn Monroe (a pop art piece by Andy Warhol) was auctioned off for a whopping $195 million. It’s hard to even get a mental account of such numbers.

Nevertheless, he made quite an impression of having a (minor) work by Warhol among dozens of works of art hosted by an evangelical place of worship in Rome (Chiesa Evangelica Breccia di Roma) for a week-long exhibition before an auction. The exhibition was entitled “Grafica Internazionale e Multipli d’Autore” and the church offered its space to host part of it.

In addition to Warhol, the walls of the room were filled with works by Picasso, Miro, De Chirico, Carrà, Fontana, Christo, Baj,… all renowned contemporary artists. Usually, the works of these artists are admired in museums or in dedicated exhibitions or art catalogs. The fact that they were displayed in an evangelical hall of worship was unusual and curious.

During the week, hundreds of people came to see the works live, also allowing them to “notice” that there is an “evangelical church” in the heart of Rome and, for some, other questions arise.

  A prayer moment in the art exhibition hosted by the Chiesa Evangelica Breccia di Roma. / Photo: CEBR

 

There are three reflections (among others) that this initiative has triggered. Here they are in the form of open-ended questions.

1. How versatile are evangelical places of worship? Since all the earth belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1), the evangelical faith has no sacred conception of liturgical space. Worship to God by the church can be conducted anywhere (indoor or outdoor places, public or domestic places, customary or occasional), without requiring a consecration of the space which makes it exclusively dedicated to worship. This allows evangelical worship halls to be multi-functional, thus being able to serve community, cultural and social activities. In our case, the premises have also lent themselves to hosting a professional exhibition of contemporary art. Some choices made in the past have been gratifying: not having characterized the walls permanently, the availability of fixing systems that do not require annoying holes in the wall, the ease of removing the chairs to have spaces cleared, the sobriety and the conviviality of the rooms. During the week of the exhibition, the church held regular services and regular meetings, thus being unaffected by the presence of the works. Both the liturgy and the preaching find in the paintings on display many illustrations and applications to the worship celebrated. The premises have shown their character adaptable to different uses.

2. What is the extent of the evangelical culture promoted? The hosted exhibition was certainly a unique event in many respects, but not isolated and exceptional. Over the years, the church has cultivated (with modesty and a sense of the limit) a concern for art which has resulted in various not inconsiderable initiatives. For example: “Bimbi ai fori” (since 2016), an art workshop for children, the art exhibitions “City/Città” (2019) and “Libertà” (2021), public lectures on “The World of Raphael” (2020), IFED Theological Culture Courses in which last academic year the Reformed approach to the arts suggested by the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper was studied. That is, the evangelical worldview promoted included the world of the arts, tried to engage with it, and grappled with the responsibility of opening spaces for Christian discourse on the arts. All this has been done in temporary and continuous forms, but intentional because they were born from the conviction that the evangelical faith nurtures a culture capable of embracing all reality, including art. The exhibition of contemporary art, even of a high standard, was then not an eyesore or an event totally detached from the ordinary life of the Church as it tried to take seriously the responsibility of nurturing the various forms of culture evangelical.

3. To what extent is the evangelical witness contextualized? A final question may be a subject of reflection. The area in which the premises of the Evangelical Church are located is characterized not only by the proximity of the Imperial Forums (ancient art), but also by museums (Trajan’s Market, Capitoline Museums) and galleries of contemporary art, as well as religious buildings imbued with art. By inserting herself into this context characterized by a strong attention given to art, the Church knew how to develop relations of contiguity with this world. While the church must stand out from its environment as a community confessing the gospel of Jesus Christ, it must not become a ghetto unable to connect with the world around it. The balance is not easy to find, yet we must always ask ourselves the question of how different and similar we are to our environment. The mere fact of being different can push us towards forms of spiritual autism incapable of communication and dialogue. Being too similar may indicate conformity to the dominant narrative that may lack evangelical bite.

When the exhibition ends, the church’s focus on art will not cease. Its space wants to be versatile, the culture promoted wants to be faithful and airy, the lived proximity wants to be connected to the context to express the requirements of the gospel.

Leonardo De Chirico, evangelical pastor in Rome. This article was originally published in Italian online on Loci Communes, an Italian evangelical online magazine.

Posted in: Evangelical Focus – Characteristics
– If an evangelical place hosts a work by Andy Warhol (and others)

Barry F. Howard