Surprisingly Irreverent: CommonWheel’s “Altared Show”

Surprisingly irreverent. It kept flitting through my mind as I browsed CommonWheel Co-op’s Altared show (on display through Feb 21).  As a rule, I try to see every show at CommonWheel. Typically, these shows are fantastic.

I was thus disappointed to observe a number of pieces appeared slapped-together, little or no effort put into composition. Others however, though well executed and beautifully done, were irreverent, finger-pointing or overly preachy.

An altar is a place to pray, worship or meditate. It is a revered, meaningful or even sacred place. “A bit of spiritual hope in commonplace items” is how the show was billed. I would have liked to see more pieces that expressed deep-felt beliefs and offered a space to consider them as well.

Art is a cultural touchpoint and inspires valuable dialogue, so don’t get me wrong here. Yes, there is a place for the statue of Jesus covered in dollar bills titled “Give Until it Hurts.” A critique on the commercialization of Christianity is valuable and can spark important conversations. What I’m saying is that an altared show seems an odd place to criticize the traditions that gave us altars.

On the positive side, I discovered the work of Jeff Brown, Robert LeDunne and Lynn Lee. These artists seemed to have real conviction guiding their respective alters, and while they undoubtedly hold different beliefs, they met harmoniously and respectfully.

I still resonate with the idea behind this show. My found-object art tends to be a collection of important objects, meditated on and arranged meaningfully—little altars. Everyone has objects that are important, almost sacred, in their daily life. It might be a chair, a bookmark or a room in their house that gives them space to think, pray and meditate. What’s your altar?

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