The Oscar Wilde Temple will transform the Russell Chapel within the Church of the Village into a Victorian era environment. The installation has been conceived by McDermott & McGough to transport visitors back to the precise moment of Wilde’s visit to America in 1882-83, with an Aesthetic Movement interior suggesting the world in which Wilde lived, worked, and loved. Specially made fabric wall coverings, architectural and decorative details, furnishings and lighting exemplify the longstanding art-life practice that the duo has described as a “time experiment,” in which the boundaries of chronology, art history, and cultural identity are strategically upended in order to open the minds of viewers to universal themes, aesthetic discoveries, and spiritual byways.
The centerpiece of the Temple is a central altar built around 4’ 3” figure of Oscar Wilde, carved in linden wood in a devotional style and based upon the iconic portrait of the author made by the American photographer Napoleon Sarony in his Union Square studio in 1882. On the pedestal below, Wilde’s prison number at Reading Gaol – C.33 – appears. Framing each side of the statue will be eight “stations,” paintings tracing Wilde’s journey from arrest through
imprisonment, and his sentence of two years’ hard labor. Inspired by the Stations of the Cross paintings at Notre-Dame-des-Champs cathedral in Avranches, France, and based upon engravings from English newspapers (The Star, The Illustrated Police Budget, The Illustrated Police News) that chronicled Wilde’s dramatic trial and the spectacle of his public humiliation, each canvas has been rendered by McDermott & McGough in a color palette of deep Limoges blue. In this pictorial retelling of Wilde’s sensational downfall, the artists have depicted Wilde as a divine soul, adding gilded flourishes to each work to communicate his suffering and martyrdom.
To one side of this central Wilde altar is a secondary altar, conceived by McDermott & McGough as a designated place for honoring those who have died from AIDS and those still suffering worldwide. Here, McDermott & McGough’s 1987 painting Advent Infinite Divine Spirit, is accompanied by a votive candle stand, a book for visitors wishing to inscribe tributes to loved ones, and space for leaving mementos for those who have been lost to AIDS.
The Temple also features McDermott & McGough’s portraits of key contemporary ‘martyrs’ of homophobia and the AIDS epidemic whose sacrifices have contributed to awareness and change. Among these are Alan Turing (1912-1954), considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence; Harvey Milk (1930-1978), the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California; Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), an African- American transwoman, sex worker, and gay liberation activist who played a central role in the Stonewall uprising; Brandon Teena (1972-1993), a transgendered boy from Lincoln, Nebraska, whose brutal rape and murder became a powerful symbol of transphobia in America; Xulhaz Mannan (1976-2016), murdered employee of the U.S. Embassy in Dkaka and founder of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first and only LGBT Magazine; and Sakia Gunn (1987-2003), a 15- year-old African-American lesbian who was stabbed in the chest while defending her sexuality in Newark, New Jersey.
Additionally, the Temple will include plaques that commemorate two ministers from The Church of the Village’s own history – Rev. Paul M. Abels and Rev. C. Edward Egan – who were forced out of pastoral ministry in 1977 and 1984 for being gay, and whose courage and commitment to love and justice were recently celebrated by The Church of the Village and others.
The Oscar Wilde Temple is also McDermott & McGough's celebration of the creative process through which experience is transformed into art, and reality is abstracted into revelation. Wilde translated his own journey – from a life of marked extravagance and pleasure, through the harshest realities of prison and being shunned by society – into two significant works of art. While in prison he wrote “De Profundis” (1897), a long letter tracing his psychological experience of the trials that brought him to Reading Gaol. And his final work, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898), took the form of an epic poem describing the experience of his traumatic incarceration.
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