Breaking ResemblanceThe Role of Religious Motifs in Contemporary Art

Breaking ResemblanceThe Role of Religious Motifs in Contemporary Art

Alena Alexandrova

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780823274475

Publisher: Fordham University Press


During the past two decades curators and artists have shown a distinct interest in religion, its different traditions, manifestations in public life, gestures and images. Since the early 1990s in Europe and the United States many artists critically re-appropriated religious, motifs, themes and images to produce works that cannot qualify as ‘religious,’ but remains in a dialogue with the visual legacy of mostly the Western, and more specifically the Catholic, version of Christianity. The book explores the complex relationship between contemporary art and religion. It focuses on the ways artists re-appropriate religious motifs as a means to reflect critically on our desire to believe in images, on the history of seeing them, and on their double power – iconic and political. When embedded in contemporary artworks, religious motifs become tools to address issues that are central to the infrastructure of, and the distinction between, different eras or regimes of the image: the rules that regulate the status of images and their public significance, their modes of production, circulation and display. The book examines the important motif of the acheiropoietic image (not made by human hands). Its survival and transformation in contemporary image-making practices provides a conceptual matrix for understanding of the reconfiguring relationships between art and religion. The book discusses a number of exhibitions that take religion as their central theme, and a selection works by Bill Viola, Lawrence Malstaf, Victoria Reynolds and Berlinde de Bruyckere who, in their respective ways and media, recycle religious motifs and iconography, and whose works resonate with, or problematise the motif of the true image.