CHRISTIANITY arguably began as an underground movement. Now a
London parish church has taken the Christian message of Good Friday
on to the Underground. Ben Moore, himself an artist, who has signed
off on one of the paintings, which has been painted after his
design, has invited a range of artists to display work that
responds to the tradition of the road to Calvary.
These pictures and sculptures are now installed impressively
around Thomas Hardwicke's 1813-17 Church of St Marylebone until
Maundy Thursday. It is intended that some are reproduced on
billboards at 14 Tube stations that have religious names, although
London Transport has nerves about the confrontational aspect of
some of the images.
Charing Cross, Temple, St John's Wood, Angel, and Marylebone are
among the stations that are part of this modernist pilgrimage
route. Simple as the idea is, this is sheer genius, and should give
pause for thought, or more.
The exhibition has appropriated the iconic sign of the bar and
circle which has, since 1908, in one form or another, announced the
London Underground. Here, the blue cross bar in the red circle has
been extended into the form of a cross. I can almost hear the howls
of anger from secularists that a quasi-national symbol has been
perverted into a Christian one, or that innocent travellers are
being exposed to the violence of the Christian message.
Moore has made a judicious choice of British artists as diverse
as Matt Collishaw, Paul Fryer, and Wolfe von Lenkiewicz.
Sculptures, large and diminutive, jostle with paintings, a video,
and chalk graphics.
St Marylebone is a conventional late-Georgian church,
significant for its scale rather than its detail. It is the sort of
church where pews are marked off for "PCC Secretary", "Crown
Sidesmen", and "Church Warden Emeritus".
Into this untroubled space Moore has invited an impressive
roster of contemporary artists to reflect on the mystery of the
death and Passion of Christ. As with any group show, the works
themselves are of uneven quality, and the space makes demands of
the installation which do not allow all the works to be seen to
their best advantage. But this is an impressive and clever
As you enter the church from the busy thoroughfare, the first
interpolated work that grabs the attention is the massive hands of
the Crucified. These large-scale drawings by the Argentine artist
Ricardo Cinalli hang from the gallery at the head of the nave and
welcome us. In between them, on the floor of the choir, is a large
wooden cross pasted over with greenbacks, as Americans used to call
their worthless dollars, while in the 1884 apse is a large graphic
by von Lenkiewicz, who has reconfigured a well-known composition of
As I wandered through the show as it was being installed by
Cadogan Tate Fine Art, a passer-by came up to me, mistaking me for
the Rector, and asked whether this work had always been there. It
certainly looks as if it has. It is the size of a drawing-room
wall, as it quite covers the reredos.
In front of it in the sanctuary is set the most surprising
sculpture (Paul Fryer), in which a black man is shown seated in a
gilded chair. Hewn in a conventional way to resemble the Man of
Sorrows, the figure has a real presence about it. But the throne is
an electric chair. Little wonder that the neighbours are disturbed.
So, too, were Pontius Pilate and his tribunal, as captured
elsewhere by Antony Micallef inKill Your Idol, on the
Benjamin West's 1818 heritage painting of Christ's nativity
hangs over the holy table in the chapel of the Holy Family, and I
hope that no Chancellor would ever allow a faculty for it to be
sold. The chapel itself is filled with a life-size sculpture of
Christ carrying the cross. The shock that follows comes from
realising that the man carrying the cross is in fact a skeleton,
crowned with thorns, as unorthodox as it is absorbing. It would be
a narrow reading of the work to take the church to task for
displaying an image denying the resurrection when it is no more
than an attempt to grapple with what it means to allow God to
On the back wall, alone, there is a cross composed of two
vintage rosewood spirit-levels made by the firm of Elliott Lucas in
Cannock, a block-mounted glass box containing
two silver nails, and an oleograph of Christ with the
crown of thorns deliberately hanging out of kilter (Nancy Fouts),
and one of Matt Collishaw's high-resolution photographs (this of a
Perhaps the most affecting piece in this broad show
is one that hints at the possibility of resurrection; inside a bell
jar, a dead chick is suspended from a red, egg-shaped balloon. In
the Orthodox tradition, St Mary Magdalene is associated with red
eggs and so the piece speaks of John 20 and the encounter in the
garden on the first Easter morning.
The work has been installed next to the font on a
small Georgian oval hall table which was given to the church in
1966 in memory of a woman who was married in the church earlier
that year and who died, aged 25, in the first months of her
marriage. True resurrection, then, remains the hope for us all,
artist and non-artist alike.
"Stations of the Cross" is at St Marylebone
Parish Church, Marylebone Road, London NW1, until 17 April, and
various Underground stations.