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A Werewolf in Montpellier

Well, here is a perfect, if slightly strange, follow-up to my series of artistic reflections on the Triduum. In Montpellier, a fairly unremarkable 19th-century church, the Eglise Sainte-Anne in the Rue Philippy, was desacralized in 1991 and made into an art exhibition space. So far, so good: as is customary in these cases, the altars (and specifically religious objects like crucifixes and images of the saints) were removed from the building (a farewell Mass is usually celebrated just before this happens), but most of the rest of the building remained, including the organ console (no longer functioning), the columns and flooring, and (somewhat unusually) the stained glass windows.

Now it is called the Carré Sainte-Anne. Apparently this arrangement has worked just fine for the past two decades, unlike some other cases of desacralized churches, like the one in Pittsburgh that became a microbrewery (to the consternation of some who did not like the sight of brewing towers in the chancel). That is, until a young French artist named Stéphane Pencréac'h had the idea to create an installation for the space, called La Passion, one that makes specific reference to the building's origins. Philippe Dagen had a report on the exhibit (Un loup-garou crucifié dans l'église Sainte-Anne, April 8) for Le Monde (my translation):
It includes large canvases and large assemblages. Two techniques even more tightly bound together that Pencréac'h excels at creating, with life-size busts or mannequin limbs covered with articles of clothing that he collects, cuts, and repaints. He also often adds in garlands of plastic fruit, stuffed animals, and costume accessories. With these materials taken from department stores and everyday processes, he has created an Annunciation, a Deposition, several versions of the Flood, a Celestial Throne, some vanitas still lifes. One can also view in La Passion the most complete attempt to make a connection with sacred painting, its format and subject matter, which has been attempted in recent memory.

Some facts contradict this interpretation. First of all there is the violence of blacks, of reds, of melted canvases. There are especially some daring anomalies by the artist. In the Crucifixion erected at the end of the nave, Christ has a werewolf's head, with red eyes and sirens twisted at his feet. The mocking and damned lycanthrope is substituted for Christ in several canvases. The intrusion of science fiction film imagery obviously does not conform with any Christian iconographic tradition. In another work, the eternal Father reigns over a world of trash and torn images. As for the female figures, they are minimally clothed for the interior of a church. All the conditions are perfect for someone to cry sacrilege.
It is surely fair to say that the artist is counting on someone crying sacrilege: is someone hoping for a succès de scandale? In the video embedded below, with some great views of the installation and the various pieces, Pencréac'h says, in a phrase that is more than a little disingenuous, "Someone shocked by this would be shocked by life." The exhibit continues through May 2.

[Video translation] Mannequins suspended in a former church: the works of Stéphane Pencréac'h can be shocking. Even so, the artist, who is exhibiting his works starting today at the Carré Sainte-Anne in Montpellier, wants to depict the human figure in all its forms, and to do it he draws his inspiration from religious art.

[Pencréac'h] "The themes one encounters in churches throughout the centuries, drawn from the Bible, are eternal themes, about our human emotions. These are universal subjects, sex, violence, love, etc., themes that move us. If it is shocking or not, so be it, I don't give a damn, it's not at all... And besides, if one is shocked by this, one would be shocked by life."

The exhibit La Passion, by Stéphane Pencréac'h, is on view through June 2 [sic].

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