Ever After Shotgun Review in Art Practical’s 3.2 Occupy the Art World Issue

Representations of death often tend toward the trite: holograms, star clusters, or gilded gates leading to puffy buoyant clouds, for example. None of these conventional methods of representing death are currently on view at the Chapel of the Chimes, the Julia Morgan–designed crematorium in Oakland, though. Instead, viewers will find more unorthodox artifacts—pop-up children’s books and Shakespeare, a pair of Dixie cups, a reproduction of a Buddhist stupa, or a spider weaving her web–among the more customary flowers and well wishes.

The placement of art in this non-traditional space defies convention but adheres to definition; after all, a museum is “a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.”1 Architect Julia Morgan, best known for building the extravagant Hearst Castle, created an elaborate but discernibly more subdued place of repose in the Chapel of the Chimes. The Chapel was a proud recipient of the 2009 Best of the East Bay award, “Best Place to Spend Eternity.” Levity aside, the curatorial collective OFFSpace believed the Chapel was the perfect venue for art that engaged a living public with examinations of the hereafter, and spent months persuading the establishment’s administration to allow art to be installed in vacant niches. They succeeded, and Ever After became the first official art exhibition for the Chapel of the Chimes.

Since each work is limited to a niche, the works tend toward two extremes: minimalist or sensationalist. Luther Thie’s piece, The Count (2011), humorously depicts a pair of battling sock puppets. The playful skirmish is a duel to the death (pun intended) that counters and rivals the romanticized view of a peaceful, regret-free death. Although some artworks appear as part of the environment, others, like Thie’s puppets, are clearly meant to stand out, and become further magnified by their unlikely surroundings.

Luther Thie's, The Count
Luther Thie. The Count, 2011; mixed media; 18.5 x 24.5 x 11.5 in. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Dorothy Santos.

Although art in a crematorium may seem unlikely and, to some, a discourteous or flippant look at loss, Ever After seeks to flesh out our collective presuppositions and neuroses surrounding eternal rest. OFFSpace prevails in testing the boundaries of exhibiting art in alternative spaces, and consistently creates well-curated, provocative exhibitions. The bottom line: a show without controversy is a show that’s probably not worth seeing.

Originally posted to Shotgun Reviews on Art Practical, please click here to view.

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NOTES:

1. From the New Oxford American Dictionary, Third Edition.

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos (b. 1978) is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She serves as one of the editors-in-chief for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and SF MOMA's Open Space. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship. She also serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism and board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center.

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