Ever AfterOctober 5, 2011
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.
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.
Ever After is on view at Chapel of the Chimes, in Oakland, through November 13, 2011.
Dorothy Santos is a freelance art writer based in San Francisco. She holds a BA in both Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco.