Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Article on Bedpan Altars: Columbia Record

Bedpan Altar, c. 1995
Found wood, enameled steel, varnish
20 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 5 1/4 in

The Columbia Record
December 11, 2005

Artist Peter Lenzo's 1990s series of Bedpan Altars are on view at Gallery 80808, Vista Studios, at 808 Lady Street in the Vista district of Columbia. The artworks are part of a group show called "Construction Crew". The show presents works of art that have strong constructional or architectural qualities. In addition to Lenzo, who is from Columbia, the exhibition includes work by Edward Rice of North Augusta, S.C.; Kim Keats of Okatie, S.C., near Beaufort; and Klaus Hartmann of Kaiserslautern, Germany. The exhibition is on view through December 21. Opening hours are Sunday, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.; Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and weekdays, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. For more information, please call the show's curator, Wim Roefs, at (803) 238-2351.

Lenzo's Bedpan Altars are the topic of an article by The State's art critic Jeffrey Day in the newspaper's Sunday Life & Arts section of December 11, page E2. Day discusses the minor controversy that has sprung up around Lenzo's altar pieces. In the artworks, Lenzo placed bedpans of enameled steel or antique porcelain in altar-like structures. After The State showed a photograph of one of the Bedpan Altars on Sunday, December 4, some readers were offended by the combination of the sacred with bedpans, which mostly are used by ill or injured, bed-ridden people unable to take themselves to the bathroom. Agitated readers presumably assumed that artist Lenzo's aim was to be critical of religion, especially Christianity. One reader wrote to The State that Lenzo's art is "sacrilegious garbage."

In the exhibition, Lenzo also shows two versions of his "Virgin Mary Gun Altar." Those are wooden boxes containing plastic and ceramic guns and statues of the Virgin Mary. 

In the catalogue to the exhibition, Lenzo says of the Bedpan Altars: "I thought they looked beautiful together. I liked the soft, succulent, curving lines of the bedpan contained by the rigid, perfect geometric lines of the altar pointing toward God." Lenzo said he began making portable altars after seeing them in European churches and a museum. The main impetus for the work was not, he says, a need to make a statement but his desire to make art that is aesthetically beautiful. “I think that in all art, no matter what message you try to convey, you need to satisfy the aesthetic element first. And if you are building something, you also need to satisfy all aspects of craftsmanship first.” 

Reading his art as social and political criticism would surpass his intent, Lenzo said, even if it would lead to conclusions about society that ring true to him. “I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or disgust people or make fun of religion. I’d rather have people look at the works as beautiful.” If people look for meaning in the work, Lenzo told curator Roefs, he'd prefer them to look at the bedpans as devices of care, used by nurses and other caregivers to facilitate the natural, God-given bodily functions of patients. Roefs wrote the catalogue essay and posted this item on TheColumbiaRecord.com.

Lenzo told art writer Day: "The reaction (of those finding his work offensive) makes me sad a little bit. I felt my motives were always respectful. I have always had a deep and abiding respect for God."

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