Contemporary Art in the Church
Ateneo Regina Apostolorum
Rome, Italy
February - May 2017

This course is open to anyone interested in rediscovering themselves and exploring the critical place of Art in the Church. The relationship between the church and art has seen an emerging renaissance since the 1990s. The end of “modern art”, has shifted the position of the viewer to become the “subject” in the experience of contemporary art. Meaning is found in the relationship between the individual, artwork and space in an unprecendented way. We need to understand what this means for the church, how art has once again taken on a vital role in sacred space, theological discussion, prayer and contemplation. What makes art now so different from what came before?

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Shock of the New - The Tradition of Art in Sacred Space

An overview of the significant shifts in Church art from the Catacombs to the Venice Biennale. Particular attention is be given to moments when the Church had difficulty accepting certain developments in art. The purpose of this introductory lecture is to give students a sense of how the Church’s tradition of commissioning art has consistently welcomed new approaches, adapting to innovation and reflecting the changing character of art.

The Religious Experience and How it is Evoked through the Experience of Art

An overview of the significant shifts in Church art from the Catacombs to the Venice Biennale. Particular attention is be given to moments when the Church had difficulty accepting certain developments in art. The purpose of this introductory lecture is to give students a sense of how the Church’s tradition of commissioning art has consistently welcomed new approaches, adapting to innovation and reflecting the changing character of art.

Priorities of Ritual-Aesthetic Experience

The majority of installations of contemporary art in churches feature works that are not explicitly religious. We look at areas within the church which can accommodate the non-religious artwork by a method of zoning the sacred space. Through extensive research on the previous forty years of art in the Church, there has emerged a series of priorities in the relationship that the artworks have to the architecture and liturgy. Four main categories for these priorities include: Form, Content, Context and Affect.

Finding Religious Meaning in Pre- and Post-Christian Art

In common conversation, we often use the phrase “contemporary art” to refer to current artistic production—the art being produced today. However, in the field of art history, the phrase denotes a specific period of art and artistic practice starting in the 1990s and continuing today. This lecture focuses on key theories and theoretical debates in the critical discussion of contemporary art. Through close examinations of selected texts, exhibitions, and artworks, we engage with a set of concepts and concerns that have shaped the discourse around cultural production in recent decades. Rather than presenting a comprehensive survey, the lecture involves intensive investigation of certain key positions and debates and their relevance for thinking about artistic practice today.

Art as Sacrament: Encountering Contemporary Art in Churches

An introduction to art from the position of the observer, the artist, the scholar, and the critic looking at a series of case studies examining the different ways that people respond to art in the church compared with the experience in a museum. The lecture looks at particular installations of contemporary artworks that have been in both Churches and Museums and discuss the potential the work has to carry more layers of meaning in sacred space. When artworks are installed in the church they acquire a religious meaning which is often entirely unintended and unexpected.

Sentimentality, Kitsch, Disturbance, Blasphemy and Provocation

This lecture examines Art that offends as a prescient examination of the perpetually troubled, often explosive relationship between religion, politics and art.

“Art should Comfort the Disturbed and Disturb the Comfortable” - Discernment in placing Art in the Sanctuary

This lecture addresses the challenge of navigating through the world of contemporary art to find works that are appropriate for the church.
1. What makes an artwork appropriate for the Church?
2. Permanent vs. Temporary Installations of Contemporary Art in Churches
3. Consolation, Disturbance, Blasphemy and Provocation

Art as Language and the Church as Translator

From Banksy’s street stencils to the fragment of an ancient Greek vase, from painted altarpieces to the Sunday comics, words and images have long conspired to produce artworks that transcend the sums of their parts. This lecture will explore ways in which the Church building contributes meaning in the artworks. Students will be given a series of tools to make sense of contemporary art.

Theology in Contemporary Art

This lecture explores the role of aesthetic experience in our perception and understanding of the holy. Two interrelated threads that have been primary in theological aesthetics through the ages, namely the beauty and vision of God and the theology of the image. The incarnation not only encouraged and sustained the hope for the vision of God, it provided the very basis for theologies of the image throughout Christian history. The lecture will explore how best to understand what is essential, expendable, or deceptive about truth, beauty, goodness, and their opposites in relation to works of contemporary art and will feature an examination of the power and limitations of these concepts.


Comprehensive list of installations of Contemporary Art in Sacred Spaces since 1970
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Locations of churches that have exhibited contemporary art and other places of religious significance
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List of books, articles and essays on subjects related to the work of KUNSTGLAUBE.
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Writings on Art in Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and other forms of Sacred Space
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Lectures, Talks and Courses delivered by KUNSTGLAUBE
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List of useful links to institutions and organisations with similar interests and a number of websites recommended by KUNSTGLAUBE
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What we contemplate in contemporary art often reveals more about who we are, how we think and what brings us here than revealing an objective meaning present in the artwork. The space in which contemporary art is encountered has taken on a new significance since 1990 and repositioned the viewer as the subject in the experience of art.


The artworks installed by KUNSTGLAUBE are not seen as religious where religion is the subject of art, but see art as the spirit or experience of religion. The experience of art is religious. Our exhibitions involve predominantly non-religious works appropriated and translated by the Church building.


The encounter with contemporary art in ritual space insists on a dialogue firstly between the visitor and artwork, secondly between the artwork and the architecture, and thirdly between the architecture and the visitor. Ritual is the glue which draws the person, artwork and architecture into dialogue.


KUNSTGLAUBE is an organisation which installs non-religious contemporary art in sacred spaces. Based in Vienna, Austria, this independent organisation seeks to offer people around the world the opportunity to experience the transforming power of art.

KUNSTGLAUBE exhibitions aim to engage visitors in a challenging and enriching experience involving:

contemporary art integrated into the architectural fabric of the Church building

religious perspective as it is expressed through ritual and architecture

the complex tapestry of memories, mental associations and attitudes that make up the individual and shape one’s perspective.

This three-fold relationship between the artwork, viewer and space are essential to the location of meaning in the experience of contemporary art. The museum space supports a very different relationship with the art object and it should come as no surprise that the re-entry of art into non-museum spaces coincides with a shift in the way the body is positioned in contemporary art.

KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions involve a series of architecturally sensitive installations of contemporary art in the side chapels, confessionals and nave of the Church building. KUNSTGLAUBE seeks to open the church space to a critical dialogue between non-religious perspectives on what it means to be human and contemporary theology.

The works installed in churches both console and unsettle - aiming to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. The Church space is traditionally reserved for contemplation and ritual action, providing refuge and consolation to people of all faiths and none. It must also be a challenging space that unsettles, provokes questions and gently exposes wounds and vulnerabilities. The art in KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions must sit on the thin and fraught line between consolation and disturbance - sensitively engaging with the architecture and the religious significance of the space.


One of the tasks of art is to remove us from the comfort of chatter (Das Gerede) and provocatively question commonly held values and widely accepted socio-cultural constructs. The transgressive rupture or erasure of these constructs in art can affect an awareness of our being in the world and deepen insight into who we are. In order to fulfil this function, art requires a particular reception that is often denied in the museum or gallery. The absence of ritual in the museum and distance between the viewer and artwork conspire against being confronted, disturbed or challenged by art.

The act of entering a church can be a stepping out of the world and into a space reserved for silence, involving the individual in an interaction with the architecture, art and quiet, where time slows down, the eyes having to adjust to the dim light, the lingering scent of incense filling the nostrils, inviting us to engage in gestures of submission and the result being deep consolation with attention drawn toward being present in the here and now. However, visiting a church isn’t always a consoling experience. A church can be foreboding, we can be distracted by elements that speak of the power structures of the religious institution. Symbols and images can seem irrelevant to our daily lived experience. And yet, there are moments when we might glimpse the potential of the space to speak directly to us in a very personal way. When we encounter contemporary art that speaks the language of our time, we are challenged to disregard this cynicism and discover that as much as these spaces are heavily bound to a specific religious tradition, they go deep into the human condition.


Visitors to KUNSTGLAUBE exhibitions are offered assistance in finding meaning in the works installed throughout the Church. The works would never be "explained" to the viewer because this would undermine the potential for the experience to be uniquely meaningful to each individual. There are no information panels in the church, and visitors are encouraged to approach staff if they would like to know more about an artwork. A floorplan and information on the works are also available online and can be accessed while in the church.


George Elsbett LC

Fr. George was born in London, grew up in Canada and has been living in Vienna for more than fifteen years. He is the theology consultant for all of KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions.

David Rastas

David has been living in Vienna since November 2012 and has been researching contemporary art in Churches since completing studies in art history and architecture. He is the curator for KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions.


The planning and realising of each of KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions requires a huge team of supporters, volunteers and staff. The Votivkirche exhibition involved twenty-six members of staff and forty-seven volunteers.

Volunteers Needed!

Do you want to be part of our team of supporters, volunteers and staff?

Register as a Volunteer


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Ben, London

Published Aug 30.


"A profound exhibition that has opened my eyes and my heart.. For so many years I have found it difficult to enter the Church. I love these buildings but I am overwhelmed with a feeling of unease at the thought of being in a church. Until today, I have not known why this is so. I`d convinced myself that it was because of the people, because of the rules, because of the institution. But today, this exhibition and Theology of the Body that it so gently engages have helped me to see things more deeply, to see things as they really are. I have already been here several times since the exhibition opened. The first time I came here I must be honest and say that I had no idea what I was looking at. But these artworks have stayed with me, they keep coming back to me. The experience I`ve had with each of the artworks has remained with me. As a result, I am changed. I feel as though I have been reborn. The reason why I did not feel comfortable in the Church was because I did not feel comfortable with my sexuality. I was afraid that my sexuality was “disordered”, I was afraid that all that is available to “church people” was not available to me. But I have realized today, as I reflect once again on these beautiful, incredibly inspiring artworks, my soul, my spirit has not been invited into my body. I’ve been living a struggle between spirit and flesh but only in a way that I have perceived it as such. Through the relationship that each of these artworks have to each of the chapels, to this remarkable church, I have discovered that my body is not opposed, separate or at war with my spirit. As the video projection on the window invites me to reflect on spiritual and bodily desires, I realize that my desires, my deepest desires are longing for one thing. If these artworks can sit comfortably in this Church and I can feel comfortable here through the access these works provide, then my spirt can feel comfortable in my body. My spirituality can sit comfortably within my corporeality just as my sexuality sits comfortably for the first time ever, in the Church. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to discover the healing power of art and the possibility of deep transformation," Ben, London

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David Rastas

Published Aug 28.


The installation of Anders Krisár’s The Birth of Us (Boy) in the Votivkirche embraced the viewer through the interplay of an unfamiliar object in an extraordinary space, but also through the most pronounced contrast of scale, ranging between the scale of the nave and the scale of the polyester resin sculpture. The range of emotional responses to the symbolic consequences of adult hand prints pressed into a child’s torso was immense. The location of the hyper-real sculpture within a space activated by ritual, where the viewer is symbolically removed from the everyday, gave permission for a thoroughly subjective response. Through ritual, this separation from the everyday enables an unexpected encounter with the threshold state of the symbolic ritual world.

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Palais Savoy, Johannesgasse 15/21, 1010 Wien
+43 680 2103 873


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KUNSTGLAUBE - Copyright 2016