by Emilee Perdue | March 7, 2024

Spiritual Joust: Exploring Modern Art’s Divine Satire at the Rollins Museum of Art

The Rollins Museum of Art explores the timeless connection between spirituality and artwork in their exhibition, "Transformations: Spirituality, Ritual, and Society."

Gary Bolding (American, b. 1952) Big Gulp Altarpiece-Triptych, 2003. Oil on panel. 15 1/2 in. x 44 in. Museum purchased from the Cornell Anniversary Acquisitions Fund, 2003.9 © Gary Bolding

A decorated knight raises his lance, wearing a menacing look under his panache and iron helmet. Across from him, a gallant musketeer tilts back his plumed cavalier hat and brandishes his weapon. The adversaries stare one another down, violent tension building as they rear their mighty steeds—their bright blue and neon pink mighty steeds—that bear an uncanny resemblance to My Little Ponies from the 1980s. They are squared off on either side of the Lamb of God, which is sacrificially bleeding into small, medium and large Big Gulp cups from 7-Eleven. Central Florida-based artist Gary Bolding’s triptych, “Big Gulp Altarpiece,” doesn’t look like most altarpieces, but it does capture the satire—and alarming truth—of modern society’s biggest religion: consumerism. 

Humor is a good door opener. It makes the (art) more accessible.
— Ena Heller

“Transformations: Spirituality, Ritual, and Society” at the Rollins Museum of Art takes gallerygoers through the relationship of art and religion, one of the unique constants in the history of humanity. Taking pieces from the 21st century and comparing them to historic works of art dating back to the 14th century, the RMA creates a beautiful and compelling visual story of artists from different time periods who have expressed spirituality through their work. Walk through four thematic sections of the exhibition: rituals, worship, anthropomorphism, popular culture and politics to gain a new sense of enlightenment and a stronger connection to the world.

Camille Henrot (French, b. 1978) The Man Who Understands Animal Speech Will Be Pope, 2016. Bronze, Marmo Giallo Siena marble, and Egyptian Yellow marble, 87 1/64 x 23 3/8 x 9 1/6 in. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art,Rollins Museum of Art. Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond. 2016.3.8. Image courtesy of the artist and MetroPictures, New York.

The exhibition isn’t all golden Mickeys and braided neon nylon fibers. Tobi Kahn, a sculptor based in New York City, created a wooden box that appears as if it was woven from shiny red fabric. Titled “Patuach Sagur Patuach,” it represents the traditional Jewish New Year celebration of Rosh Hashanah, where people cast their sins away into a flowing body of water. Kahn’s creation is both stunning and functional—as its sapphire center represents the open water to accept the previous year’s shortcomings, allowing those without access to rivers or oceans to practice this religious ritual.  Camille Henrot’s bronze and marble sculpture, “The Man Who Understands Animal Speech Will Be Pope,” was inspired by Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to the United States, which spurred a flurry of canine pope memes. Photos of dogs dressed as the highly esteemed Catholic official covered the internet, creating a domino effect and eventually influencing Henrot’s iconography. Playing off the lighthearted fun, Henrot creates a discourse about the peace animals carry, their historical symbolism in world religions and the divide that separates creatures and humans. “The element of humor really helps us think about the works in a different way,” says Ena Heller, Ph.D., the museum’s director. “Humor is a good door opener. It makes the (art) more accessible.”

The exhibition incorporates the old with the new, presenting contemporary along with prized pieces from historical eras, such as Hendrick van Steenwijck’s 17th-century Flemish “Interior of a Cathedral.” The oil painting depicts a detailed scene of a Gothic church, with courtiers, priests and images of Jesus Christ. Though Bolding’s triptych features Andy Warhol’s Madonna instead of the Virgin Mary, the invisible thread of spiritual importance bleeds through every work. 

Tobi Kahn (American, b. 1952) Patuach Sagur Patuach, 2012. Acrylic on wood. 9 3/4 x 12 3/8 x 8 3/4 in. A Gift from the Acorn Foundation, funded by Barbara and Theodore Alfond, in honor of Bruce A. Beal Director Ena Heller. 2015.8.1 © Tobi Kahn

“The tight connection between belief and art is not relegated to just one historic period or one place in the world,” says Heller. “It continues to be important in artistic expression, even if today it looks very different than it did 500 years ago.” 

“Transformations: Spirituality, Ritual, and Society” will be open until May 12, 2024, at the Rollins Museum of Art.