In a dimly lit room at the Institute of Sacred Music lie the works of three West Coast artists.
“All That Remains: Material Remembrances in Love and Loss,” an exhibit that opened last week, is curated by Anya Montiel, a second-year doctoral student in American Studies with 10 years of museum experience. The exhibit is the result of a conversation between Montiel and ISM Deputy Director Sally Promey in which they shared an admiration for California-based aritst Lewis deSoto’s installation entitled “Paranirvana,” which is modeled after a reclining Buddha statue from Sri Lanka and is now featured in the exhibit. After his father’s passing, deSoto found solace in Buddhism’s tradition of contemplating death and the possibility of enlightenment. Montiel drew inspiration from his story, choosing to curate the exhibit around the themes of love, loss and remembrance.
All the works featured in the exhibit explore the difficulty of dealing with the death of “loved ones who have been lost too soon,” Montiel explained.
“When I was writing the brochure text I was bawling — a lot of these stories are so powerful,” she said. “It was an emotional process [for the artists] to create these works.”
Montiel chose pieces that deal with different types of loss: the death of a parent, a child, a spouse and a friend.
Oregon-based artist Rick Bartow has three pieces on display, all of which revolve around the issues of death, disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a painting titled “Give Me Back My Father,” he depicts a young Inuit child who loses his father to tuberculosis.
“He was left on his own, and it sort of ruined his whole life,” Bartow said of the boy. “In the end he succumbed to alcoholism and died.”
In “Traumbild,” another one of Bartow’s paintings, a horrified man is surrounded by the night terrors that haunt war survivors. In “Personal Myth,” Bartow painted a skull in the chest of a woman’s figure, symbolizing the cancer that took the life of his wife in 1999. These pieces show the “real elements of emotions,” he said.
California-based artist Judith Lowry contributes two pieces, one full-length portrait of a man who died of brain cancer and one painting of a relative of Lowry’s who was killed in a hospital accident.
The most visible piece is deSoto’s “Paranirvana,” an enormous Buddha that is the centerpiece of the exhibit. The figure is made of painted nylon and has deSoto’s face superimposed on its head. The piece is unique in that it has a life cycle: During exhibit hours an electric fan keeps it inflated, while at night the fan is unplugged and the piece “slowly sinks to the ground,” Montiel explained, adding that the installation mirrors the inevitable sequence of life and death. On Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., visitors can watch the Buddha deflate.
“I think that all of us had some questions about what the exhibit would be like,” said Melissa Maier, who is in charge of publications and communications at the ISM. “We couldn’t wrap our heads around it.”
Now, Mailer said, she hails Montiel’s work as “one of the best exhibitions [the ISM has] had.”
“All That Remains” will be on display at the ISM Gallery of Sacred Arts until Oct. 24.