Art Epiphany, Part II: the Millennium Bridge August 2, 2014
I write this, and the previous post, from London. One of the newer features of the city, finished in 2000 [opened for two days, shut down for repairs, and reopened in 2002], is a pedestrian bridge called Millennium Bridge. It connects two major institutions. At the south end is the great art museum called Tate Modern, an old electric plant converted in a really quite beautiful way into a large art museum, which, unlike the Guggenheim Bilbao, actually has a lot of good exhibits in it. At the other end is St. Paul’s Cathedral, built around 1675 [opened in 1708] in a style that strikes Americans, especially the dome, as looking more like a legislative building than a traditional church! Of course, it was 1675, and it was more in Victorian times, 200 years later, that the Gothic Revival taught us that ‘traditional churches’ are supposed to be spiky Gothic, or at least we associate that style with the old fashioned religious. In those Victorian times, oddly enough, the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt in a spiky Gothic style! This leaves Americans with a rather odd impression – the legislative building looks churchy, and the biggest cathedral in town looks like a legislative Capitol, as we would call it. O England!
But sorry for the digression. It seems to me that the Millennium Bridge strikingly connects two major shrines; that of the Old Religion, and that of the New. Both are crowded with visitors and tourists. I, not being that much of a connoisseur of modern art, am amazed that the Tate Modern is so crowded. I can see a few black clad Brie eating [or even weed-smoking] sophisticates might be interested in what is in it, but I cannot see what the general public sees in the place. At the same time the New Religion has a use for the shrines of the Old Religion. The great cathedrals and churches of Europe are valued. Instead of worshiping God in churches, the New Religion worships churches . . . the buildings!! And I suppose that’s better than a lot of the modern art they worship. The New Religion, at least in Europe, which has not been devastated by Culture Wars, seems to value its heritage from the Christendom age as Christendom valued its classical Greco-Roman pagan heritage. St. Paul’s compromises with the New Religion by putting art exhibitions in part of its space, most recently one by video artist Bill Viola, supposedly a Buddhist with a high respect for Christianity. I did not see that, but I did see a Bill Viola exhibit in Paris. His art works are very slow moving videos with lots of fire and water in them. Every few minutes something actually happens, and then nothing happens for a few more minutes. I have not watched C-SPAN, but I suppose watching C-SPAN would be a lot like watching a Bill Viola video.
To digress again: a place where the actual taste of the public can be seen and appreciated is Rick DeVos’ annual ArtPrize festival in Grand Rapids every September, where the public [and a Midwestern public at that] is invited to rate their favorites of new artworks. To be sure, DeVos also had to have a juried art prize too, so that at least one prize could be awarded without contamination by the ignorant bumpkins; but the public prize predominates.
The Old Religion is not dead in Britain or anywhere else; a remnant shall return, says Isaiah. We went to All Souls Church, Langham Place last night, where the sermon was on John 1 about antichrists, or people who deny that Jesus is the Messiah and the way to the Father. And there are many other Anglican churches in London, at least north of the Thames, that remain Christian and are prospering. It depends a lot on the local bishop. The bishop of the north side of the Thames is friendly to Christianity; the bishop on the south side is not. The legalization of same sex marriage in Britain has made the disestablishment of the Anglican Church inevitable, in my opinion; it’s not clear whether the Church shall be required to perform, or validate, such ceremonies. Will we see the congregations like All Souls and Holy Trinity Brompton forced to vacate their buildings or validate same sex marriage as canon law? Anglican churches in parts of the United States have been forced from their buildings; we have no state church, but courts in California and Virginia have ruled that if a church congregation has ever been part of The Episcopal Church, which is now effectively a cult, the buildings of that congregation belong to The Episcopal Church forever; and the Anglicans now meet in warehouses and gyms. Maybe the British will work out a better solution.