Fountains of the Deep: Visions of Noah and the Flood

Coinciding with the release of his new feature film, Noah, director Darren Aronofsky presents an exhibition of contemporary art inspired by the biblical story of Noah and the Flood. Fountains of the Deep includes work from 50 internationally recognized artists and is a collaborative effort between Aronofsky and independent curator Dominic Teja Sidhu. The filmmaker personally chose each work of art on display and commissioned many of the artists to create original work specifically for the exhibition: “While writing the script for Noah, I wondered how my favorite artists would interpret the iconic text. So I decided to ask a few of them to return to Genesis and create an image of their own.”

Identifying the story of Noah as humanity’s first apocalyptic tale seems to be the central premise of this exhibition. Genesis 6-9 depicts a world very different from the one we know, and yet its themes of survival, redemption, and new beginnings are entirely familiar. The Creator turns his back on his creation and vows to wipe mankind off the face of the Earth. Yet God has mercy on Noah and instructs him to build an ark that will house himself, his family, and two of every animal that lives on land. Noah does as God commands and though the Earth is flooded by rain for forty days and forty nights, God delivers him from this terrible fate. Noah and his sons are then blessed by God and ordered to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth” (Genesis 9:1).  It is a story that is grim and miraculous in the most extreme ways and one which remains exceedingly influential on the arts.

Doug and Mike Starn, Bbú Juju painting MV4

Doug and Mike Starn, Bbú Juju painting MV4

Fountains of the Deep encompasses a great range of genres and media, from painting, sculpture, and photography to commercial illustration and graffiti. In David Scher’s grayscale painting Noah Noah a boat sits stranded atop an island of debris. The image depicts a cloudy, melancholy world in which humanity is left to deal with the consequences of a natural disaster. The work by artists (and identical twin brothers) Doug and Mike Starn titled Bbú Juju painting MV4 gives off a sense of both tragedy and hope. On one hand, the Starn brothers have used bamboo and rope to construct a jumbled object that appears to be in a state of wreckage. Then again, the assembled bamboo resembles a makeshift raft, a symbol for human resourcefulness and survival.

James Jean, Noah

James Jean, Noah

The lower-level gallery is filled with work that is perhaps more unexpected considering the Old Testament-derived theme of the show. Kagen Sound, a woodworker from Colorado known for his Japanese-style secret boxes, designed a box from 59,003 tiny wooden cubes measuring exactly one cubit, the unit of measurement designated by God to be used in the construction of the ark (Genesis 6:15). Commercial artist James Jean interprets the figure of Noah as a sort of allegory of human frailty; the exposed body bleeding into the ocean is painted in the bright, swirling colors for which the Taiwanese painter is known. A bold graphic style is also employed by graffiti duo FAILE in Never Before, Never Again, a collage of images and text referencing both the environmental and emotional impact of the Flood.

Thomas Thiemeyer, Building the Ark

Thomas Thiemeyer, Building the Ark

Thomas Thiemeyer provides viewers with a very cinematic imagining of the Building of the Ark, which perhaps best anticipates Aronofsky’s film. Thiemeyer is a German author and illustrator whose works have a strong narrative quality and a highly polished fantastical look to them. This particular painting places the ark in sort of sci-fi landscape—a wild world populated by giants and other mythical creatures. The epic nature of the scene reminds us of the monumental impact the story of Noah has had on our culture and how it continues to inspire the visual arts.

Noah lower level 2

Fountains of the Deep is on view at 462 West Broadway through Saturday, March 29.

Noah will premiere in theaters worldwide on Friday, March 28.

- D.L. for MOBIA

Maja Lisa Engelhardt’s “The Fifth Day”

“The fifth day also tells of great whales and winged fowl. In the fragment at the top of Giotto’s fresco as we see St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds. The abundance and diversity of a flock of birds gathered together in groups has inspired me to a form that is recognizable in my new series of pictures. It is the outlines of the flocks of birds in movement as I experienced them in the area where I grew up by the Danish coast. Here, thousands of birds would congregate to migrate together, some to the south and some to the north. There was a constant movement and constant change in the shape and colour play in the group. I have often seen this spectacle, in which birds soar up and fill the air with joy and with a start and finish in constant change like waves in the ocean as they constantly start anew. The paintings attempt to show this structure and must be seen as an approach to the moment of creation that is not a figurative representation, but a vision.”

- Maja Lisa Engelhardt, on her personal development of the show


Maja Lisa Engelhardt’s The Fifth Day, currently on display at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery in Chelsea, explores the idea that the days of Creation prior to communication (which happens on Day Six when God speaks with man) can only be depicted abstractly rather than through figurative representation. Throughout over 30 works Engelhardt expresses a variety of abstract visions that convey the experience of this particular day of Creation.

The Fifth Day of Creation in the Book of Genesis reads as follows:

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”  So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. – Genesis 1.20-23

Focused on the creation of the birds and fish on Earth, Engelhardt’s artwork  utilizes a wide variety of colors to explore the chaos of her visions.  Deep texture highlights the artist’s process of layering paint as she develops each work.  Throughout the exhibit the viewer is able to follow Engelhardt as she experiences the confusion and discovery that come with her envisioning the creative process of God through the filter of her own artistic rendering.

The three pieces presented in sequence below show little consistency in brushstroke or color, yet they each illustrate moments in Engelhardt’s overall creative process. The center painting contains a rich purple with vertical sections that acts in contrast to the pastels and horizontal brushstrokes evident in the two others. All three works are examples of the abstract visions that Engelhardt experiences, and they highlight her inability to create a concrete image of the Fifth Day. This variety is not due to confusion on the artist’s part, but rather to the endless possibilities of abstract representation that the day has.

Compare the power of using abstraction to represent the Creation, as Engelhardt does, to a more explicit rendering, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.  Though the latter does not depict the Fifth Day specifically, his figural representations of Adam and Eve, and the intangible being of God, have endured in our cultural consciousness.  Engelhardt reacts to this, finding a new way to examine and explain the text of Genesis, which itself has always been read both literally and abstractly.

The Fifth Day is on view at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery (529 W. 20th St.) through November 30, 2013. The gallery has hosted Engelhardt’s other shows, The Second Day (2007), The Third Day (2009), and The Fourth Day (2009).

Be sure to catch the only contemporary biblical show happening in Chelsea right now – it’s worth the trip.

- E.W. for MOBIA

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Check It Out: “Piero della Francesca in America”

Just across the park from MOBIA, located right on Fifth Avenue, is the famous Frick Collection. Now on view is an exhibition dedicated to seven works done by Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca (1411/13-1492).  Piero della Francesca in America brings together six panels from the altarpiece of Sant’Agostino, a church in Sansepolcro, Italy, the most extensive reassembling of the polyptych ever exhibited since its dismantling.  The exhibition also features Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, the artist’s only intact altarpiece in the United States.

Piero della Francesca (c. 1411/13–1492),
“Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels”, c. 1460-70
Oil (and tempera?) on poplar panel, transferred to fabric on panel
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

See Piero’s rendition of saints like Apollonia, patron saint of dentists, and Augustine, whom the artist portrayed as wearing a cloak depicting scenes from the life of Christ.  You may also recognize Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, the focus of a spotlight post on this blog few months ago (did you know that it became a rule of the Augustinian Order that there had to be a likeness of Monica in every Augustinian church?).

Piero della Francesca in America is on view until May 19.  The Frick Collection is located at 10 East 71st Street.

Now on view at MOBIA

MOBIA’s newest exhibition, Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery, is now on view!


Renée Stout (1958- )
“Church of the Crossroads”, 1999-2000
Neon and wood, 52 x 37 x 3 in.
Courtesy of the Artist and Hemphill Arts

Ashe to Amen investigates the intersections and crossroads of aesthetics and belief in African American art. For more than two centuries, the Bible has been a catalyst for this multicultural and initially disenfranchised artistic community and has been inspiring the creation of sacred, spiritual, and religious spaces and identity. The exhibition’s title takes its name from praise terms commonly used in African and African American communities. Ashe, a Yoruba word, refers to the creative power of an artist to make something happen. Amen is an affirmation meaning essentially “so be it”.  The visual continuum on display in Ashe to Amen presents the inventive, deeply personal, and ongoing interpretations of the Bible created by artists from the African American community.

Featuring the work of pioneers in the field – Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, and William Edmondson, among others – alongside contemporary artists and designers, the exhibition showcases works of various media and highlights the integral ways in which art impacts the religious experience.


Bessie Harvey (1929-1994)
“Black Horse of Revelations”, 1991
Painted wood with fabric, beads, and miscellany, 54 x 45 x 15 in.
Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
Gift of Avalie Saperstein in memory of Elyse Saperstein
Photo by Gavin Ashworth, New York

Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, Guest Curator of Ashe to Amen: African-Americans and Biblical Imagery, was interviewed by Interfaith Radio.  Listen to hear some of the details regarding the amazing works of art now on view.

Ashe to Amen will be on view at MOBIA until May 26, 2013; at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture June 22 – September 29, 2013; and at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens October 20, 2013 – January 5, 2014.

Visit our website,, to check our calendar of upcoming events and public programs.

Spotlight: Fathers of the Church


Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Joseph Lauber, designer
“Fathers of the Church”, c. 1892
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York

In 1892, Tiffany Studios created the monumental mosaic, Fathers of the Church, as part of the Tiffany Chapel display, designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, as a way to market the Studio’s Ecclesiastical Department to an international audience.   The chapel’s dramatic marble and glass mosaic interior was inspired by Byzantine and Romanesque models, fully furnished with an altar, reredos, lectern, baptismal font, a cruciform-shaped electrolier, and several stained glass windows.  This display was so evocative that many men reportedly removed their hats when entering this seemingly hallowed space.

The Church Fathers were writers of early Christian doctrine who lived before the eight century.  This mosaic depicts, from left to right, Saints John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Ambrose.  Though all three were bishops, only St. Augustine (who became bishop of Hippo, in northern Africa, in 396) and St. Ambrose (who became bishop of Milan in 374) are portrayed with the traditional miter (bishop’s hat) and crosier (bishop’s staff). St. John Chrysostom, though he became the bishop of Constantinople in 398, is shown holding a Bible, a reference to his renown as a preacher.  Each saint is identified by the name inscribed in the halo.  These three figures are often portrayed together in liturgical art in acknowledgment of the foundation they laid for Christianity.

Tiffany had a deep appreciation for traditional ecclesiastical vestments, which were also produced at Tiffany Studios.  As depicted in this mosaic, the resplendent robes of the Church Fathers are rich in detail.

The Tiffany Chapel earned 54 awards, more than any other exhibitor, at the 1893 World’s Fair.  It also won Tiffany Studios international fame for its religious work.  After the fair, Tiffany displayed Fathers of the Church in his showroom and featured it in the marketing booklet printed by the Studios in 1896, Glass Mosaic, to illustrate the Studios’ work as continuing in the grand tradition of European mosaic-making.  Fathers of the Church is part of The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, in Long Island City, New York, and on-view at MOBIA until January 20, 2013.  The Tiffany Chapel is on permanent display at the Charles Hosmer Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida.

–B.B. for MOBIA

“Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion” will be closing in two days!  Come see this great work and all the other beautiful works of art behind the exhibition’s end on January 20.

Breakfast at Louis C. Tiffany’s

As Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion draws to a close on January 20, 2013, the MOBIA staff continues to reflect upon what has been a memorable exhibition. Although as per regulation, food and drink are prohibited in the gallery, Truman Capote’s iconic novella and Blake Edwards’ later film were invoked as we took one last look. Featuring leaded-glass windows to mosaics and altar objects, as discussed in the Religious News Service article highlighted in the Washington Post and the Associated Press coverage from the NY Daily News, the exhibition has explored the vast array of Tiffany Studios’ production in the ecclesiastical sphere. Named one of the “best New York museum exhibitions of 2012” by and having received a comprehensive review by The New York Times critic Ken Johnson, we look forward to the reception of our upcoming exhibition Ashé to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery which opens on February 15, 2013. On behalf of the Museum, we thank you for your continued support and send our best wishes for the New Year.

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

For additional installation images of Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, please see those taken by the Associated Press that are featured in the slideshow.

Spotlight: The Magi

In honor of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), Art, the Bible & the Big Apple is highlighting the Magi who are commemorated on this coming Sunday.


“The Adoration of the Magi”
Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ’s Hertogenbosch ca. 1450–1516 ’s Hertogenbosch)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 13.26

In the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2:2-12), the Magi (sometimes known as the wise men) come to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus, claiming that they came from the East following a star.  They bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, offerings that respectively symbolize Jesus’s role in the eyes of believers as King of Kings, Priest of Priests, and the Suffering Sacrifice.

Before they found Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, the Magi approached Herod the Great, the king of Judea, and inquired as to the whereabouts of the newborn king whose star they saw.  Herod sends them off to find him, telling them to return to him and alert him of the new king’s whereabouts so that he may worship him as well.  Once they depart, Herod plots to have the child, whom he considered a rival, killed.  In a parallel of what happens later in Matthew’s Gospel when an angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt, an angel warns the Magi not to return to Herod, and so they bypass Jerusalem on their journey home.

Over time, the image of these wise sojourners has evolved.  While the Magi were most likely Persian astrologists, they are commonly identified as kings, and while the Gospel does not give a specific number of men who came to pay the infant homage, they are traditionally depicted as being three in number, most likely because of the number of gifts


“The Adoration of the Magi”
Quentin Metsys (Netherlandish, Leuven 1466–1530 Kiel)
Date: 1526
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 11.143

presented.  A document dated to 500 C.E. called the Excerpta Latina Barbari identifies the Magi as Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar.  They are also traditionally assigned different areas of origin, though Scripture implies that they derived from the same country.  In art often one is depicted as being European, another as African, and another as Asian or Middle Eastern.  Sometimes they are even depicted as being in the throes of three different stages of life – young, middle aged, and elderly.

How to Know Them: The Magi can be identified most easily be their symbolic attributes, their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They stand out from the other witnesses to the Nativity in their lavish costumes, in particular contrast to the shepherds who come directly from the fields to worship Jesus.


“The Adoration of the Magi”
Giotto di Bondone (Italian, Florentine, 1266/76–1337)
Date: possibly ca. 1320
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 11.126.1

Where to Find Them: Nativity scenes so often and so prominently featured the Magi over time that many portrayals are known by the title The Adoration of the Magi.


“Adoration of the Magi”
Date: ca. 1520
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 32.100.144

A Metropolis Full of Magi: The magi can be found mostly in nativity sets, but New York City museums have many depictions of this scene.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains a large collection, one of which was recently on view at MOBIA as the subject of the exhibition The Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi: A Masterpiece Reconstructed.


“The Adoration of the Magi’
Bartolo di Fredi (Italian, active by 1353–died 1410 Siena)
Date: ca. 1390
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 1975.1.16

Contemporary Kings: The Magi are staples of religious Christmas films and television specials.  They are major characters in the 1968 classic stop-motion animation classic The Little Drummer Boy, fitting into the perception of Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar as coming having come from Europe, Africa, and Asia, respectively.


“The Adoration of the Magi”
Date: ca. 1175–1200
The Cloisters Collection
Accession Number: 30.77.6-.9

The Magi also act as comic relief in the 2006 film The Nativity Story.  The first act of the movie shows three calculating their destination based on the star, the second act focuses on their bumbling travels to Judea, and the third encapsulates the awe-inspiring faith they find at coming upon and his parents in the stable.


Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript: Bifolium with part of the Genealogy of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi
Date: ca. 1180
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 1991.232.2a-d