Dead Art

I’ve been watching this series on Sky Arts 2 called Dead Art.

One of them I watched this weekend was about the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx NYC. This was an AMAZING place and if I go back to New York, would love to go there.

As a child I used to find cemeteries terrifying. I wouldn’t look at them lest a ghost or something got me. But as time passes, things bother you less and my turning point was probably when I visited the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Maybe it was because I didn’t personally know anyone there – or there was no heritage line. But I found it fascinating.

Maybe it was because the place was full of amazing art sculptures and mausoleums. Maybe it was because my experience of cemeteries up till then, were very grey, lichen covered places that have been ‘elf and safetied into having nothing more than a slab of marble if you were lucky. These places are another world by comparison.

sculptures by famous people for rich people. Tiffany stained glass. Multitudes of architectural styles. A potted history of a person’s place in time – and not just by the date, but the economic and artistic place too.See the image gallery link below.

In memoriam.

in memoriam |ˈɪn mɪˈmɔːrɪam|
noun [often as adj. ]
an article written in memory of a dead person; an obituary : in memoriam notices in the paper.
in memory of (a dead person) : an openly revolutionary work in memoriam Che Guevara.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: Latin, literally ‘to the memory (of).’

Another piece of memory that represents ‘ones’ memory of someone now departed.

What is also really interesting about the cemetery is that they have kept all of the records from the architects, artists, planners etc. that shows all of the sketches etc. Which have been given to the Avery archive at Columbia university.

I know I have a long-held obsession with ecclesiastical art – and I guess this is an extension of it. Art has always been created in God’s name and was therefore of the highest quality inside the churches. There was no better way of celebrating his glory than to devote time to create something in his honour.

Now I’m not religious. But I have always found ecclesiastical art to be a favourite. Lush and opulent colours and finishes and I have already mentioned on my blog about the difference between English churches (stained glass and elaborate stone) and many european ones – unassuming outsides with plain structures, but heavily painted and decorated walls to the highest level. So I am always keen to look at how that period in history chose to dedicate their churches with art.

The burial art is quite different in its ethos though. This is not about glorification of a higher being – but of someone you knew. It is very personal to the family and friends, but at the same time it has a message to convey to those that didn’t know them. What a complicated and difficult brief!! Often money spent is one of the lower considerations – it is the last thing you can spend on your love one – so great works are often afforded.

I think this is a really interesting area to look into – especially with its connection to memory. I think this area is often overlooked in the UK because our days of great cemetery art is long gone. But it is something I must bear in mind when travelling!


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