Contemporary Art And The Church

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20150524

With the Holy See's pavilion gleaming amidst other nations' exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, the world's greatest contemporary art festival, Fiona Shaw questions the contradiction that exists between contemporary art and the church.

Since the big bust up with contemporary art at the beginning of the 20th century, with the so-called "evil" force of Modernism that Pope Pius X believed "led to the annihilation of all religion", the Christian church has been a cautious commissioner of contemporary art. But a voice from within, that of Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is set to end the stand-off.

Fiona travels to Rome to meet the Cardinal and hear about his passion to reinstate "the marriage between art and faith".

Ravasi has said, "There is an insoluble problem in the coexistence of art and religion and faith, but there's no need for the Catholic Church to retreat and lose contact with the contemporary art world by remaining stuck in the "reliable" neo-Gothic, neo-Romantic, neo-Classical styles that are perfectly coherent with religion...It's time to grow our relationship with the creative artists and creative energy of the artist... "

In London, the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields has been reaching out to contemporary artists for a decade, while Canon Mark Oakley at St Paul's Cathedral is equally committed and is delighted that St Paul's is the first setting for a permanent video work by the American artist Bill Viola.

We'll hear from artists including Cornelia Parker and Dorothy Cross, who discuss the allure of Christian stories and iconography in their own work, but they also reflect on the contradiction of contemporary art and the Church, given that art sets out to ask questions, while the Church exists to console, to answer questions.