Karen Gunderson

MICHAEL BRENSON: The New York Times: Weekend: Review/Art: Karen Gunderson: Friday May 3, 1991

Karen Gunderson
St. Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street)

Through May 28

For the somewhat dreary beige stairwell of St. Peter’s Church, Karen Gunderson has
made three large paintings – one all black, another black and white, the third mostly white – that embrace the kind of religious icomography most artists now stay away from.  The most original painting, the “Crucifixion,” gives a clear idea of how much Ms. Gunderson can do with black alone.  Christ on the cross is set against a huge black sun.  The textures of the cross, loin cloth and body are distinct.  The body is so sculptural that the expiring, light-reflecting figure seems to be raising his arms in a comforting sermon.

The “Ascension is also moving in the way Christ seems protected within a diamond-shaped pocket of space as He rises into the sky.  The least successful painting is the one in the middle, the “Resurrection,” with its risen and still drowsy Christ standing with one foot on His sarcophagus as two soldiers sleep.  Since this subject does not have the personal punch of the other two paintings, the “Crucifixion” and “Ascension” might have been better alone.

The main question is whether these are gallery or church works.  While their interpretation of familiar iconography carries enough weight for a gallery setting, it may not carry enough religious and personal meaning for a church, where every visitor knows the images by heart.  In a church, a painting has to be an icon before it is a painting, and these works are paintings before they are icons.  But these are nervy and honest works, and this Lutheran church’s responsiveness to the need of artists to test themselves in religious settings is welcome.