The Oscar Wilde Temple was installed at The Church of the Village from 11 September to 2 December 2017.
A Collaboration between McDermott & McGough, The LGBT Community Center of New York City, and The Church of the Village memorialising leaders in the fight for equality.
The Oscar Wilde Temple transformed the Russell Chapel in the Church of the Village into a Victorian era environment. The installation was conceived of by McDermott & McGough with the aim to transport visitors back to the precise moment of Wilde’s visit to America (1882-83). An aesthetic movement interior was built, 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 was a central altar built around 4’3” figure of Oscar Wilde, carved in linden wood in a devotional style and based on the iconic portrait of the author in his Union Square studio in 1882 by the American photographer Napoleon Sarony. On the pedestal below, Wilde’s prison number at Reading Gaol – C.33 – appeared. Framing each side of the statue were eight “stations,” paintings tracing Wilde’s journey from arrest through imprisonment and his sentence to two years’ hard labor. Inspired by the Stations of the Cross paintings at Notre-Dame-des-Champs cathedral in Avranches, France and based on engravings from British 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 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 was a secondary altar, conceived by McDermott & McGough as a place for honoring those who have died from AIDS and those still suffering worldwide. Here, McDermott & McGough’s 1987 painting Advent Infinite Divine Spirit was accompanied by a votive candle stand, a book for visitors wishing to inscribe tributes to loved ones, and a space for mementos in offering to those lost to AIDS.
The Temple also featured McDermott & McGough’s portraits of key contemporary “martyrs” of homophobia and the AIDS epidemic whose sacrifices have contributed to awareness and change worldwide. Among these were 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 transgender 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 included plaques in commemoration of 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 was also McDermott & McGough's celebration of the creative process through which experience is transformed into art and reality 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.
The Center, McDermott & McGough and The Church of the Village would like to thank the following for their generous support of The Oscar Wilde Temple, New York.
Co-Chairs: Dorothy Berwin, Laurent Claquin, Alison Gingeras, Peter McGough, Glennda Testone and Pastor Jeff Wells.
Patrons: Dorothy Berwin, Laurent Claquin, Richard Edwards & Kevin Ramnaraine, Mark Fletcher & Tobias Meyer, Ales Ortuzar, Marc Payot & Susanne Mack Payot, Ugo Rondinone, Cindy Sherman, Gordon Veneklasen, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts, and anonymous.
Advisory Committee: Mark Flood, Robert Gober, Carol Greene, Lyle Ashton Harris, Roni Horn, Jonathan Horowitz, Juliana Huxtable, Zoe Leonard, Julie Mehretu, Marilyn Minter, Donald Moffett, Rob Pruitt, Andrea Schwan, Siddhartha Shukla, Laurie Simmons & Carroll Dunham, A. L. Steiner and Jasmin Tsou.
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