Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) is on a mission from God.
Take that however you want.
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, LUMA brought together a “greatest hits” sampling of most-loved exhibitions that could defy understandings of Jesuit culture.
Upon looking through LUMA’s 10th anniversary celebration, the resonating concept of “reconciliation” surfaces. Here is a museum trying to reconcile a beginning with a future, faith with curiosity, divinity with humanity; strained pairings that lined up well with this institution’s mission of “illuminat[ing] the enduring spiritual questions and concerns of all cultures and societies.”
“Most don’t know about other faiths,” said LUMA’s founding director, Pamela Ambrose, who also serves as Loyola University’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “We try to show creativity that deals with spirituality, whether it’s found in abstractions or in the form of narrative. Our exhibitions deal with the artist who wants to express spiritual concerns.
“Of course, you’ll meet some who will argue that all art is spiritual, but I think that we’re putting out artwork that intentionally explores broader aspects of spirituality.”
Ambrose pointed to Lewis Desoto’s “Paranirvana, Self-Portrait” as a piece in the exhibition that draws a vivid line between intentional and unintentional spirituality. Originally part of LUMA’s 2006 exhibition “The Missing Peace,” Desoto’s enormous sculpture depicts Buddha as he lay dying of food poisoning. In this story, Buddha gives lessons on samsara, the circle of life, death, and reincarnation, with the hope that one day all livings would eradicate suffering through karma and end this cycle.
“We inflate the Buddha at beginning of the day to evoke life, and then we deflate it to symbolize death at the end of the day,” Ambrose illustrated, her bangles brightly clinking together as she drew out the sculpture’s pathway.
In the same room as “Paranirvana” floats Andy Warhol’s “The Silver Clouds.” Also brought to LUMA first in 2006, this installation is the result of Warhol’s collaborations with Billy Kluver, an engineer with Bell Labs. Comprised of Mylar, helium, and fans, “Clouds” looks like wild clusters of silver pillows. With the fans blowing from the different angles of the room, these featherlight “clouds” barely touch the ground as they move about, inviting interaction from viewers as they stroll through.
This piece truly fits the exhibition’s flavor profile. Warhol’s interest in the emerging space technologies of the ‘60’s informed the choice of materials and echoed in the work’s atmospheric theme. In the piece is the hubris of space exploration, the idea of humankind pushing the limits of nature to become conquerors.
Without the interaction of visitors, the “clouds” will waft naturally within the space, pushed by the “wind.” When patrons interact, however, they disrupt this movement and push the “clouds” according to their desires. So, here is another tense reconciliation, one between nature and humanity, where participants control the atmosphere and, in a sense, become God.
It’s a mis-recognition that Ambrose recognizes in the classic, cinematic depictions of Christianity that sparked her own career as an artist engaged with spirituality and religion.
“I learned about God through pop culture, in the big, sweeping epics from Hollywood,” she said, recalling the grandiose, Technicolor productions that once entertained audiences on a biblical scale. “But, this Western understanding of faith shouldn’t be the only one at work.”
Ambrose believes that the goals for LUMA’s next 10 years include coming out of its “infant” phase and building its niche audience to include the diverse population that a city university allows.
“It’s been a big challenge to reach out to the communities we’re trying to represent, but I think the nature of our exhibitions and their leanings towards social justice will invite that in the future,” Ambrose said.
Upcoming exhibitions for LUMA include projects that address the problems of global slavery and sex trafficking, and another that looks into the “seriously religious life” within a Brooklyn-based Hassidic community. Ambrose hopes that these diversified exhibitions will help foster the museum’s growth, as she envisions expanding both the space of museum and its outreach programming.
During the interview, Ambrose noted that “really good art reveals itself slowly,” and through its complicated, deliberately intersectional programming, “LUMA at 10” fits this definition beautifully.