Crocefisso No. 9 (Crucifix) 1961 Private collection Milan © The William G. Congdon Foundation
NEW HAVEN – The Knights of Columbus Museum, in cooperation with the William G. Congdon Foundation, is presenting an exhibition of paintings by American artist William Congdon, together with a series of Lenten meditations written in the 1960s by Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
"The Sabbath of History: William Congdon – Meditations on Holy Week" opened Feb. 22 and continues through Sept. 16, 2012.
William Congdon (1912-1998) is regarded as one of the foremost painters of his generation. In the 1950s, his expressive images of urban landscapes caught the attention of critics and artists alike, who praised the intensity of his vision and his unique form of abstraction. In 1951, he was profiled in Life magazine as "a remarkable new U.S. painter." But while Congdon’s achievements as a mid-20th century action painter are well known, the accomplishments he made decades later have gone largely unrecognized. The exhibition is the most comprehensive overview of Congdon’s art to date, with more than 65 works ranging from drawings the artist made during World War II to abstract paintings he completed in the final months of his life.
For Congdon, painting was a form of theology and an activity through which religious devotion could be enacted. Congdon repudiated the notion that modern art and spiritual art were incompatible. Throughout his career he forged a singular approach to painting that incorporated the spontaneity of action painting with forms of figuration and landscape.
Congdon’s pursuits may be defined as a relentless quest for a spiritual art for modern times, which resulted in a life that was distinctly nonconformist and an artistic career defined by continual change and continuous production.
Joseph Ratzinger was born in Bavaria in 1927 and ordained a priest in 1951. Father Ratzinger earned a doctorate in 1953 and became a professor of theology. He served as a theological advisor of Cardinal Joseph Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It was soon after that he authored, for Bavarian Radio, the meditations featured in the exhibition.
In 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and elevated to the College of Cardinals. He participated in the 1978 conclaves to elect Popes John Paul I and John Paul II. In 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he held until his own election to the papacy in 2005, when he took the name Benedict XVI.
In 1997, he reflected on his Lenten meditations, written 30 years earlier but reprinted in The Sabbath of History, a book published by the Congdon Foundation which inspired this exhibition: "No Christian can be left cold by Good Friday, at least no Christian that is struggling for the right path. Is it not strange that an apparently ruined man, who departs in extreme pain and forsakenness, is portrayed as the redeemer of all men? … It occurred to me very early that the connection between love and pain was the central question of the cross."
The exhibition, which marks the centennial of the Congdon’s birth and the 85th birthday of Pope Benedict, is curated by Daniel Mason with the collaboration of the Foundation’s research director, Rodolfo Balzarotti.
"The Sabbath of History: William Condgon – Meditations on Holy Week" is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that includes a new English translation of Father Ratzinger’s meditations and offers an extensive analysis of Congdon’s work and career, with essays by Rodolfo Balzarotti, Susan Greenberg Fisher, Ellen Landau, Daniel Mason, Robert Nelson, Margaret Olin, and Sally Promey, along with a commentary on Ratzinger’s meditations by David L. Schindler.
"The Knights of Columbus takes pleasure in presenting the artwork of William Congdon, who studied here in New Haven at Yale University," said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. "His themes show a deep introspection and an appreciation for the transcendent. Together with the reflections of Pope Benedict, The Sabbath of History offers both an educational and inspirational exhibition."
The Knights of Columbus Museum has hosted some of the country’s most impressive exhibitions of religious art and history. Among its notable shows were "Creating St. Peter’s: Architectural Treasures of the Vatican," a collection artifacts from the world’s largest church, including an original scale model dome built by Michelangelo; and "Joan of Arc: Medieval Maiden to Modern Saint," which included more than 200 items of art and culture that celebrated the life and accomplishments of the young French woman and military leader who was burned at the stake.
The museum recently closed "Full of Grace: Crowned Madonnas from the Vatican Basilica," a collection of centuries-old paintings from around the world never before exhibited outside St. Peter’s Basilica.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. Information is available at (203) 865-0400 or kofcmuseum.org.