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Portrait Society’s Serene ‘Chapel of Bones’

Art Review

Feb. 14, 2011
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Draw the blue curtain open and walk into the Portrait Society Gallery’s second space, Gallery B. Envelop oneself in the space, surrounded by ivory walls, and notice how creamy-white porcelain bones line glass shelves while monks chant in the background.

The Portrait Society’s current exhibition features the gallery’s second annual Winter Chapel, titled “A Chapel of Bones.” Standing inside and viewing Linda Wervey Vitamvas’ signature organic ceramics recalls being in an exaggerated reliquary, defined as any receptacle or shrine that holds the physical remains from revered individuals or saints.

Reliquaries remind the living of sacred elements, and the gallery’s representation exhibits more than 75 matte fired bones that commemorate the idea that humans were created from dust and to dust their bones will eventually return. Even the porcelain material, the ceramic medium used, often requires bone ash to create. A calligraphic gold wall frieze addresses thoughts culled from the artist’s inspiration, a visit to the Capuchin Crypt in Rome: “What you are now you used to be, what we are now you will be.” The poetic words express a continuum to life’s cycle, a thought that pervades Vitamvas’ serene room in which viewers may light a candle held in amorphous votives on a glass table to honor those released from this world’s journey or the remaining sojourners.

The sparse chapel is luminescent in the evening, imparting fluid gray forms on the walls beneath the shelves, reflecting bones, teeth and other shapes held above. Beginning at dusk, these shadows give the gallery a meditative ambience. White benches are available to those wishing to linger, to be still and warm during the cold winter.

The significance of the exhibit may elude certain viewers, especially during daylight hours, but its conceptual elements serve those with a pensive spirit. Connecting to the Winter Chapel involves embracing an evocative experience instead of merely a visual display, heightened by the repetition in form one observes through these delicate porcelain bones. In a world that hurries toward endless communication and motion, the Portrait Society and Vitamvas present a respite—infused with contemporary art instead of traditional religious motifs—in which to contemplate life.

To celebrate the annual Winter Chapel, which continues through March 11, the Portrait Society Gallery hosts Jeffrey Filipiak, Ph.D., to give the annual “Snow Sermon” on Friday, Feb. 18, at 6:30 p.m.


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