Derek Cracco Exhibit

A Different Exhibit and View of Mary

– Father Johann G. Roten, S.M.


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The Art Department of the University of Dayton recently presented an exhibit by Derek Cracco called "Heartlands." It uses Marian images and juxtaposes them with licentious materials. The primary objective of this artistic exercise was to provoke criticism directed against Catholic moral teaching. The Marian Library objects to this abusive alienation and "reconstruction" of the Marian image. More important, it deplores the desecration of her person and the lack of respect for those who aim to know, love, and serve Mary. You will find here a short statement voicing critical observations regarding the above-mentioned exhibit.

Some hearts and minds are in turmoil over Derek Cracco’s exhibit at the University of Dayton. There is a different kind of Marian art at UD's Marian Library. It is human, reflects cultural variety, embraces imperfection, protests against injustice, and helps people on their way to God. It is true to its biblical roots and rich artistic tradition. Come to the Marian Library and take a look at Michael O’Neill McGrath’s exhibit, “Blessed Art Thou,” and you will enjoy beauty, religious inspiration, a healthy self-critical spirit, and a great sense of communality.

Derek Cracco’s art is a lonely and somewhat obscure cry for a better understanding of Catholicism. His views on Christianity, the Trinity, Jesus Christ, and the Bible are less than accurate. They may be intense, but that does not make them true. It would be a shame if such interpretations were taken as the standard results of authentic and committed Catholic religious education.

Exhibits like “Heartlands” have an unfortunate tendency to utterly distract from what they stand for: the arts. The discussion is no longer about artistic quality, inspiration, the relation between style, form, and content – not to speak of beauty and aesthetics. The whole purpose is, or tends to become, ideological. One takes images and makes them say what one wants them to say, not what they mean and are meant to convey. Cracco uses a sophisticated technique of collage. Alas, the meaning of his art, too, is a form of collage, which is an assembly of diverse fragments, unrelated, and largely unintelligible except for the somewhat shaky oral bridges that the artist tries to build between the segments. We are told that art is about asking questions, not about answers or beauty. There is indeed one question that arises when standing in front of Cracco's art: Where is the question, and what is it?

Marian art has a long tradition of dealing with aspects of human sexuality. It has dealt with the nursing mother in holy icons, the naked Christ Child in modern times, the exotic Madonnas of Gauguin’s Tahitian period, and Munch’s subtle inquiry into Christ’s incarnation. The Marian image has been very helpful in promoting religious inculturation, a better sense of justice, and a more pronounced humanness of Christian religion. However, the attempt to deconstruct the Marian image and reconstruct it as sexual icon has invariably backfired. It is good for a scoop, a splash, and a short-lived little scandal. It does not really advance either the art or its underlying purpose.

Living in a democratic society and academic institution, we welcome dialog and freedom of speech. Both of these characteristics apply to this Catholic university. But there is more: We are committed to seeking truth. Research and seeking correct information is our obligation and, we hope, the fruit of this challenging endeavor. There is still another dimension to be pondered. Dialog has its roots in profession, the holding and professing of cherished and shared religious convictions. For many of us Mary as model, sister in faith, or spiritual mother is a cherished and shared religious conviction. There is need, and so there must be room, to profess Catholic identity, lest we be accused of being an intellectual no-man’s-land and open territory for ideological abuse.

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International Marian Research Institute

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