By Sean Callahan
Visitors were not a common occurrence on the Saint Vincent College campus during the 2020 to 2021 academic year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with a return to normal visitation this year, campus speakers and guests are coming back for various campus events, including gallery exhibits at the Verostko Center for the Arts. On Sunday, Sep. 12, the Verostko Center held a lecture and opening reception for the Eighth Catholic Arts Biennial. The event was open to the public, although it required registration ahead of time and masks indoors. The Verostko website described the event as an “international biennial juried exhibition” that featured contemporary artists whose work explored Christian themes. David Brinker, director of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at Saint Louis University, was selected as the juror of the biennial. Brinker chose the art pieces for the exhibit and gave a lecture on what makes contemporary art Catholic in the Fred Rogers Center on Sep. 12. Andrew Julo, director and curator of the Verostko Center for the Arts, was grateful for Brinker’s art selections.
"Mr. Brinker chose 52 works from 396 submissions completed by 159 artists working across the United States as well as internationally,” Julo said. “This has been the best response rate yet to the Catholic Arts Biennial.” As of Sep. 24, a video link on the Verostko website shows Brinker’s lecture and opening remarks by speakers Julo and Reverend Edward Mazich, O.S.B, Rector at Saint Vincent College’s seminary. Julo highlighted the establishment of the first Catholic Arts Biennial in 2001 by the late Br. Nathan Cochran, O.S.B. and said he was pleased that this biennial happened safely in person. “Today’s biennial marks the first time the Verostko Center has been formally opened to receive outside guests.” Julo said in the video. These statements preceded the 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. reception, which occurred at the Verostko Center’s gallery, on the second floor of the Dale P. Latimer Library. At the reception, all guests had an opportunity to socialize, browse the chosen exhibits, and vote upon their top three favorite art pieces. Guests included artists featured in the exhibition as well as SVC students, faculty, and staff. Dr. Christopher McMahon, professor of theology at Saint Vincent College, attended at the request of Julo, who wanted the theology department to be represented at the event. But McMahon, who had attended the biennial with some of his theology students, was also self-motivated by what he felt was the purpose of the biennial.
“This was a forward-facing event for the college and monastic community. It is important for making a statement about the value of artistic work for theology and understanding it.” McMahon said. “From a theological perspective, artistic production is valuable data.” McMahon noticed that although only one of the top three awardees was at the gallery reception, artists across the country had attended the lecture and reception. Some came from as far as New Mexico or Chicago. Others were international. He agreed with Julo that the attendance of so many artists with displayed work was monumental for the biennial. McMahon observed “lots of energy, curiosity, and excitement” among the diverse group of artists and other attendees at the gallery reception. He recalled a group of Pittsburgh artists speaking to a group from Mexico and shared a memorable encounter among the group of Mexican artists. “For one of the artists from Mexico, this was his first competition and the first time that his work had been selected for curation and display. He was very proud. He had his family taking pictures of him next to his artwork,” McMahon said. Julo said that he believes the biennial’s opening reception was a great success and that many attending artists were excited to be visiting in person once again. “Whether seasoned professionals or recent graduates, the biennial affords an important opportunity for artists to exhibit their work, share ideas, and connect with local parishes and patrons,” Julo said. The Eighth Catholic Arts Biennial exhibit will be open for display in the Verostko Center until Oct. 29.