In “Accounts of the Numinous,” curators Taylor Hansen Hughes and Evelyn Sum make a church out of an art gallery. Stepping inside the Neiman Center Gallery is to enter into a stripped-down concrete narthex — the entryway to a cathedral — where one leaves earthly concerns behind and takes up concerns of the spirit. In this narthex the viewer is confronted with a triptych altarpiece, but instead of scenes from the life of Christ, artist Ricardo Galvan presents rough, heavy, industrial steel. Human form isn’t necessary to remind a person that they’re about to enter the presence of God. The shape alone is enough to put us in the right frame of mind.
Next there is a series of ossuaries: Small containers for the bones and relics of saints. Thomas Schneider’s saints don’t look perfected or idealized; they seem pained and tortured. Are these saints suffering for the faith, or because of it?
Jerico Domingo’s three-cornered table brings together ritual meals of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These three faiths are symbolically seated for a family meal while the main dish — a goat’s skull — holds the center. There’s not much to eat, to be certain. One hopes that perhaps more mutually agreeable arrangements can be made.
Morgan Cravenho’s large-scale photographic prints, likewise, feature the interiors of other, more conventional churches. The neglected corners and quiet, disused spaces prompts a question: Without people, is a church anything at all?
Finally, in the chapel where one usually finds an altar and crucifix, there is the most ambiguous work in the exhibition: Large sculptures by Elizabeth Housewright. The sculptures feature a boat hovering over an unpainted, glowing Joseph figure, fugitive from the nativity scene. Is this boat threatening to crush the figure? Why this minor figure from the Gospels, rather than Mary or Christ? And instead of stained glass windows, there are massive steel panels that bear not human forms, but representations of light itself, torn away from Caravaggio.
This art-church is unfinished, roughly hewn, and under construction. It’s appropriate, because the spirits within are not settled by any means, and this space is filled with a faith that is certainly not blind.
“Accounts of the Numinous” is at the LeRoy Neiman Center Gallery, 37 S. Wabash, through November 12.