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Divine meanings

Christ-themed exhibit at BYU's Museum of Art challenges visitors to seek sacred truths in artwork

PROVO, UTAH

And many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he unto them, concerning his coming. — Mosiah 3:15.

Visitors to art museums or galleries sometimes utilize a passive eye while viewing a painting or sculpture. Don't forget that art is interactive. It's a two-way communication tool that allows an artist to introduce an image — then it's up to the viewer to ingest and interpret that image's meanings and messages.

For centuries, gospel-minded artists have enlisted their trade to communicate their love for the Lord, His life and His mission. A recently opened exhibit at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art is designed to help like-minded viewers recognize such divine meanings tenderly communicated through paint, clay and carved wood.

"Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes" by LDS artist Minerva Teichert depicts an episode from the Savior's  mortal ministry that reminds viewers of the miracles Christ can play in the lives of the faithful.
"Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes" by LDS artist Minerva Teichert depicts an episode from the Savior's mortal ministry that reminds viewers of the miracles Christ can play in the lives of the faithful. Photo: Courtesy BYU Museum of Art

"Types and Shadows: Intimations of Divinity" is a collection of 44 pieces of art that challenge museum visitors to find sacred meanings in symbols, metaphors and veiled references all pointing to the mission of Christ. The diverse works in the exhibit, according to the museum, were selected to guide the viewer through a process of seeing beyond obvious and familiar narratives. It's hoped that viewers can enlist that skill to recognize "types" and "shadows" in the world around them that testify of Christ's saving existence, mission and love.

"And Then I Looked" by David Linn may suggest the magnitude of the Son of God as foretold in Nephi's vision.
"And Then I Looked" by David Linn may suggest the magnitude of the Son of God as foretold in Nephi's vision. Photo: Courtesy BYU Museum of Art

"Religious art is often inspired by the artist's most personal expressions of faith and belief," said Dawn Pheysey, curator of religious art at the museum. "These images often have the power to articulate sacred truths that resonate with our own spiritual feelings. And just as determined searching of the scriptures expands our understanding, the careful study of sensitive religious depictions can lead to new insight and comprehension and profound gospel doctrines."

Wadaw Suska's carving "Moses Striking the Rock" will likely make viewers remember Christ's declaration that He is the water of eternal life.
Wadaw Suska's carving "Moses Striking the Rock" will likely make viewers remember Christ's declaration that He is the water of eternal life. Photo: Courtesy BYU Museum of Art

The work of some artists included in "Types and Shadows" communicate easily recognizable messages of the Savior and His mission. Christian Olsen's "Christ, the Good Shepherd," for example, captures the comforting image of the Lord cradling a helpless lamb in His arms. One is reminded of Christ's biblical declaration "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

Contemporary LDS painter Lee Udall Bennion's "Daily Bread" is rich with Christian imagery and symbols.
Contemporary LDS painter Lee Udall Bennion's "Daily Bread" is rich with Christian imagery and symbols. Photo: Courtesy BYU Museum of Art

Other images can be a bit more challenging — yet every bit as relevant. Mormon artist Lee Udall Bennion's "Daily Bread" depicts a woman who appears to be offering or accepting a single loaf of bread at the center of an outstretched apron. Some might appreciate Sister Bennion's painting as a nod to simple living and the loving nourishment found in the homemade gift. But those with gospel-sensitive eyes will see more. Again, it was the Savior who called Himself "the bread of life" as He offered eternal sustenance through His gospel and atonement. Others may also be reminded of the Old Testament manna that was offered daily to the Children of Israel as a blessing for their faithfulness.

The Old Testament's Job is revered for his faith in his Redeemer even during times of great personal trials, sadness and sickness.  Here the dying - yet ever believing - Job is depicted in an oil painting by Jehudo Epstein.
The Old Testament's Job is revered for his faith in his Redeemer even during times of great personal trials, sadness and sickness. Here the dying - yet ever believing - Job is depicted in an oil painting by Jehudo Epstein. Photo: Courtesy BYU Museum of Art

The exhibit is rich with the work of a variety of artists and media.

Curators at the museum have provided several resources to help exhibit visitors recognize the divine meanings found in each piece of art — even as they attune their eyes to similar message found all about them. A comprehensive study guide was produced in cooperation with the BYU Religious Studies Center. This guide will lead visitors through a series of strategies they can enlist to interpret and make meaning from the works in the exhibit. A cell phone audio tour also provides visitors with insights from several of the living artists represented in the exhibit.

Images from the "Types and Shadows of Chirst" exhibit at BYU-MOA. Tuesday, Sept.-22, 2009.
Images from the "Types and Shadows of Chirst" exhibit at BYU-MOA. Tuesday, Sept.-22, 2009. Photo: Courtesy BYU Museum of Art

Visitors can also add their own imprint to the exhibit. A digital comment wall invites folks to input their own personal comments and impressions while perusing the observations of others.

"Types and Shadows: Intimations of Divinity" will be on display in the museum's lower galleries through March 13, 2010. There is no charge

Images from the "Types and Shadows of Chirst" exhibit at BYU-MOA. Tuesday, Sept.-22, 2009.
Images from the "Types and Shadows of Chirst" exhibit at BYU-MOA. Tuesday, Sept.-22, 2009. Photo: Jason Olson, Deseret News

BYU's Museum of Art is located on the school's main Provo, Utah, campus. Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Sunday.

Call (801) 422-1140 to schedule a tour.

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