On Exhibit: taking liberties with the virgin | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Exhibit: taking liberties with the virgin 

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Beate Minkovski acknowledges that some may be offended by "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary," an art exhibit about the Virgin Mary opening tonight at Woman Made Gallery. "We always do a show like this after the holidays because people need sobering up," she says, citing last year's self-explanatory offering, "Holy Baloney."

Though "sacrilege" may be the first word that comes to mind when viewing some of the artwork, Minkovski says the most appropriate term to describe the exhibit is "honesty," citing the oft-mentioned truism that if Mary were to give birth to Jesus today she'd be condemned as an unwed teenage mother. But perhaps no other religious figure comes as close to defining cultural ideals of womanhood.

Many of the artists recast Mary in contemporary terms. Jennifer Karady's staged photo Annunciation has the archangel Gabriel offering a wire hanger to the pregnant Mary. She says her depiction affirms "every woman's right to choose motherhood as well as her right to control her own sexual identity."

Minnesota artist Jayme Walker's charcoal drawing Ground Zero recalls a 1940s war department poster, complete with stencil lettering. "Mary represents both repression and power," says Walker, asserting that her image has been used to "control the masses under the guise of comforting them."

Chicagoan Mary Ellen Croteau portrays the Blessed Virgin in a more traditional pose, looking deceptively serene from a distance. Upon closer inspection, the viewer notices her body is covered with hundreds of newspaper headlines, such as "Man indicted in wife's slaying" and "Rape victim dies of stab wounds." Minkovski says, "You know women aren't put on a pedestal when you look at this."

The highlight of the show's modern-day Marys is Susan Edwards's Mary and Her Dog, Yellow, a humorous and provocative watercolor that has met with a variety of reactions. "When people see this painting they say, "Mary didn't have a dog,"' Edwards says. "Why do they believe that she conceived a child without having sex yet can't accept that she might have had a dog?"

The exhibit "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" opens this Friday from 7 to 10 PM and runs through February 23 at Woman Made Gallery, 4646 N. Rockwell; admission is free. Call 588-4317 for more.

--Claire Kirkwood

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