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Wide-ranging exhibition at BYU’s Museum of Art celebrates the power of Christian symbolism


Wide-ranging exhibition at BYU’s Museum of Art celebrates the power of Christian symbolism

PROVO, Utah — Artists from all corners of the globe have long utilized symbolism to capture the Christian’s "devotional life.” Their work can reveal their personal witnessing of the Savior — while simultaneously connecting with fellow believers who view their art across space and time.

A new exhibition dedicated to exploring the many aspects of such Christian symbolism is now on display at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art.

“Of Souls and Sacraments: Symbol and Context in Christian Art” features dozens of artworks from the museum’s collection and private lenders. The religious exhibition doubles as an art history lesson. An array of stylistically diverse works spanning from the 14th century to the present day are included in the new installation, which will be on display for the next two years.

“Of Souls and Sacraments” replaces the popular “Rend the Heavens” as the museum’s new long-term religious exhibit.

Curators hope legions of museum patrons of all ages, religious and academic backgrounds will take in the exhibition again and again.

Paige_Anderson_triptych_copy.jpg

Included in new religious exhibition at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art is Paige Anderson’s “Again, Glorified (Atonement triptych),” 2019, oil on panel, 26 by 60, 36 by 80 and 26 by 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Provided by Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art

“One of the things we’ve really tried to do is to look at the idea of art and symbolism in the devotional life of a Christian — and that’s something that goes back centuries,” Ashlee Whitaker, the exhibition’s curator, told the Church News. 

“It’s a shared experience among a lot of Christians.”

Many of the Christian symbols displayed in “Of Souls and Sacraments” will be familiar to most Latter-day Saints, she added. Others, less so.  “But all of these symbols that we are focusing on are key parts of the story of Christian salvation. Really, they all come back to Christ."

Visitors to “Of Souls and Sacraments” will discover sacred Christian symbols such as the cross, Christ’s mother, Mary, and the New Testament’s witness of “the Word being made flesh” (John 1:14).

“These kinds of symbols were very present in worship over the centuries — and they were messages that gave people hope,” said Whitaker. “They spoke of empathy and compassion and, ultimately, a call to come to Christ and receive salvation.”

Whitaker and others at the museum hope the artistic symbolism found in the new exhibition will offer visitors “something that can touch their hearts and help open up new channels of understanding about what the Savior’s atonement means.”

Thanks to the generosity of various artists, collectors and donors, and the talents of art conservators, the BYU museum was able to acquire and curate from “celebrated old masters” such as Jusepe de Ribera, Anthony van Dyck and Benjamin West.

The works of those venerable painters hang harmoniously alongside the works of contemporary artists such as Jorge Cocco Santangelo, Paige Anderson, J. Kirk Richards and Lisa DeLong.

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Included in the new religious exhibition “Of Souls and Sacraments” is the work of Jorge Cocco Santangelo (1936-), “The Sacrament in the Americas,” 2021, oil on canvas, 22 by 30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Provided by Brigham Young University's Museum of Art

“Of Souls and Sacraments” will obviously be a draw to art history and religious studies students at the Church-sponsored university. But families, faith groups, Sunday school classes and tourists will all likely discover something in the exhibition that remains with them long after they leave the museum.

“Visitors will find a familiar gallery transformed into an edifying space for contemplation, meditation and conversation,” added the museum’s head of education, Philipp Malzl, in a museum release. “I am confident that this exhibition offers something of value to each visitor who comes seeking to be uplifted and inspired.” 

“Of Souls and Sacraments” is open to the public free of charge until July 2024. Additional details on the exhibition, including a preview of select artworks, are available on the MOA website at https://moa.byu.edu/of-souls-and-sacraments/ .

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