In the NY Times Ken Johnson reports that “The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors” in Chelsea will close at the end of this month. “That may not mean much to most of the art world�s hipper denizens, but it will to visionary and psychedelic-art fans for whom the chapel has been a mecca since it opened in 2004. Founded by the psychedelic painter Alex Grey, and his wife, the painter Allyson Grey, the chapel is a curious, over-the-top combination of art gallery, New Age temple and Coney Island sideshow. The main attraction is an installation of allegorical neo-Surrealist paintings by Mr. Grey that, in the context of a carefully orchestrated theatrical environment, is designed to transport paying visitors into states of ecstatic reverence for life, love and universal interconnectedness….
“Visionary art is not new � see Bosch, Blake, Redon and others � but in Western society before the 1960s, it was the province of isolated individuals. Then LSD became widely available, and anyone could have mystic revelations for the small price of a little pill. Two recent, disappointingly flawed exhibitions inadequately addressed the subject: ‘Summer of Love’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art last year, and ‘Ecstasy: In and About Altered States’ at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 2005. For the most part, mainstream discourse about art goes on as if the psychedelic revolution were just a minor, tangential distraction.
“Yet evidence of psychedelic experience is everywhere in art these days, from the paintings of Takashi Murakami, Steve DiBenedetto and Philip Taaffe to the perceptually confounding sculptures of Charles Ray and the baroque films, sculptures and performances of Matthew Barney. The rapturous video installation by Pipilotti Rist now on view at the Museum of Modern Art is nothing if not psychedelic. The story of contemporary art and the psychedelic revolution remains to be told. What�s unusual about the Greys� project is not only that they openly acknowledge their pharmacological sources of inspiration but that they are also dedicating their psychedelic vision to the service of a kind of neo-pagan church. A sweetly charismatic couple in their mid-50s who could be mistaken for ministers of a Unitarian church, they have hosted full-moon gatherings every month where they and others sermonize, tell stories, sing and play music, recite poetry and otherwise try to promote spiritual enlightenment.
“Art world sophisticates may call the Greys� project goofy, but in this scary time of economic implosion, their investment in spiritual expansion might just be the smartest of all.” Read more.
And what about Fred Tomaselli? He needs to be mentioned here. If you ask me Tomaselli is Grey’s Chelsea-sanctioned counterpart. And the two artists are friends. Their relationship comes up in an excellent 2003 Brooklyn Rail interview with Tomaselli.
The problem with psychedelic art is the label. The labels psychedelic and surrealist are way too over-coded. They bring too much baggage. But I do agree, nonetheless, that it is very difficult to fully understand art since the early 20th century (since the Romantic era really) without taking non-ordinary states of consciousness (drug-induced or otherwise) into account. It’s one of the secret histories of our times…
Tom Friedman should be mentioned here as well. His art, if you ask me, very often packs a powerful psychedelic punch.