On February 14, 1993, the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) opened as the world’s first interfaith museum of contemporary art. Housed in a spacious chapel that was used for over thirty-five years by Jesuits studying philosophy at Saint Louis University, MOCRA has mounted nearly fifty exhibitions and presented the work of more than two hundred artists who hail from across the globe and whose art represents a genuine engagement with the religious and spiritual dimensions. These artists come out of a variety of faith traditions, and in fact a number of them are unaffiliated with any particular path. What they hold in common is a desire to explore the spiritual and religious dimensions, employing traditional media and imagery as well as newer media and the visual vocabulary of our own day.
Part One of Thresholds: MOCRA at 20 embraces the variety of artistic expressions exhibited throughout MOCRA's history and includes works by forty-one artists from MOCRA's first decade. The artists hail from the U.S., Germany, and Australia, and work in media including painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, video, and more. Among the works on display will be Lewis deSoto’s massive 25-foot-long inflatable sculpture of the Paranirvana, or reclining Buddha (first shown at MOCRA in 2000); pieces by St. Louis metro area artists Jon Cournoyer, Sue Eisler, and Steven Heilmer, and a selection of works from MOCRA's groundbreaking 1994 exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS.
Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., Founding Director of MOCRA, notes that the title of the exhibition points to a variety of meanings. "For many of the artists, their work explores the boundary, sometimes distinct, sometimes porous, between mundane experience and the transcendent. In turn, the artists invite viewers to share in that passage. A threshold is also a point of meeting, the doorway where we pass into another's experience or way of life. It represents hospitality but also risk. As an interfaith venture, MOCRA seeks to bring both artists and viewers to the threshold of other people's experiences, to encounter unfamiliar traditions and to share our own."
Thresholds also marks a point of transition for MOCRA. Fr. Dempsey describes it as "an opportunity, twenty years into the journey, to take stock of where we have been and to prognosticate a bit about where we might be going."
In his work Gitanjali, Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore writes,
I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight?
With gratitude to the many people who have made MOCRA possible and sustained us over the years, we invite audiences to visit MOCRA for the first time or the twentieth, and hope that, when they cross MOCRA's threshold, they will experience hospitality, wonder, insight, and renewal.