I admire religious art, but like most people my ideas about what makes art religious are pretty conventional. I love Fra Angelico and El Greco, but until recently I would be hard pressed to name an artist who tackles religious subjects who is not dead.
My recent visits to the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) have changed that. MOBIA, which opened last May in Manhattan, currently features an exhibition of contemporary painters, sculptors, and mixed-media artists specializing in religious themes. Some of the work is strange, some downright weird, but much of it pushes the boundaries of religious art in arresting ways.
Debunking myths about religious art is part of the mission of MOBIA, which is housed on the second floor of the American Bible Society near Lincoln Center. Ena Heller, the executive director of the museum, told me that she hopes the gallery will surprise people in the same way it surprised me. “We art historians have been taught that religious art pretty much died with the Enlightenment,” said Heller, who ran the Bible Society’s art gallery before founding MOBIA. “That’s one of the notions we’re trying to...dispel—or at least discuss.”
Heller’s definition of biblical art is expansive. She says MOBIA will naturally include work that represents figures or stories from the Bible, but will more broadly, according to its mission statement, feature work “...