Nancy Baker @ Plus Ultra Gallery
City of God
March 30 to April 22, 2006
Opening: Thursday, March 30, 6-8 pm
Plus Ultra Gallery is very pleased to present City of God, the first New York solo exhibition by North Carolina-based artist Nancy Baker. In this new series of elaborately imagined landscapes, Baker---who admits to having an "inexplicable" attraction to Medieval Christian art---explores the intersection of contemporary American culture and religion at its most idealized (and perhaps absurd) extremes. With an astonishingly complex vocabulary that she appropriates from across the span of art history, Baker walks a razor thin tightrope between kitsch and high art. As noted in a catalog essay by curator Luis Camnitzer, Baker sees her dance with kitsch as not just about dubious taste, it's "also about play with forbidden taste, subversion of highbrow arrogance, poking the provincial attitudes of hegemony that determine and separate the good and valid from the bad and invalid…."
Fueling the theme (and providing the title) of Baker's exhibition is the dichotomy of the human condition explored so thoroughly in St. Augustine's landmark book, The City of God, which was primarily a philosophical response to the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 AD. Many Romans believed this catastrophe represented the wrath of the pagan gods because their countrymen had embraced Christianity. Augustine of Hippo sought to counter these beliefs, drawing a distinction between those who live for the pleasures in the earthly "City of Man" and pious believers who suffer but focus on their eventual joy in the "City of God." While meant to be a consolation to the Roman Christians who were reeling from the shocking attack on their capital, St. Augustine's text here paradoxically serves as the pretext for Baker's humanist counter-assertion that although good deeds in the light of death may seem absurd, it's all that we've got and therefore reason enough to live one's life that way.
In addition to the general themes of the text, Baker's series draws from the imagery of an illuminated manuscript of City of God by "Maître François" for Jacques d'Armagnac, Duke of Nemours (d. 1477). Lifting other imagery from along the path of art history up to and including pop iconography, Baker connects the dots between the famous response to the attack on Rome and our response to recent events in the US.