When shadows reveal the light

2012-07-18 L’Osservatore Romano

The exhibition “An American Perspective” at Ca’ Foscari in Venice celebrates the hundred year anniversary of the birth of the American painter William Grosvenor Congdon, who was born in 1912 in Providence, Rhode Island and died in1998 in Milan. It is an almost obligatory tribute, since from the vertical City of New York, where between 1948 and 1950 he with "St Mark's Square" (1950) other artists of Action Painting exhibited their work, the 36-year-old William first travelled to Italy in 1948 and found a horizontal city in Venice, a new light for him: “a light that comes from the East”. An aesthetic experience which then turned into a spiritual one, awaking in him a slow conversion until he finally “surrendered himself” as an Episcopalian to the Catholic Church ten years later.

The American artist's path of conversion and of light began in Venice, the city of gold and of the allure of Byzantine spirituality. Congdon did not search for exterior light and  radiant gold rather the shadows which reveal the light: that dark and luminous cloud of which the Eastern Church Fathers spoke and that apophatic doctrine where the truth is given to denial and the light shines through the darkness. Naturally Congdon discovered all of this by way of painting and his friendship and discussion with the Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément in 1981 and with philsopher Hans Urs von Balthasar, who he met at the Rimini Meeting in 1984.

Also on the occasion of the centenary of Congdon's birth an exhibition, entitled “The Sabbath of History: William Congdon” is on display in New Haven, Connecticut, at the Knights of Columbus Museum. Sixty-five works are exhibited which illustrate how his artistic career is marked by  a profound spiritual reflection which found, among other things, harmony with the meditations of Joseph Ratzinger concerning Holy Saturday. The exhibition — open until 16 September and curated by Rodolfo Balzarotti and  Daniel Mason — in fact combines Congdon's work with Ratzinger's meditations that date back to some of his lectures held in 1967  and which were subsequently collected in 1998 in the book  The Sabbath of History which he wrote together with William Congdon.

Alfredo Tradigo