Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Disappointment for La Guadalupana

I was once asked some years ago, by a client, to do a capriccio, or architectural fantasy, which showed what I might do with the interior of Los Angeles Cathedral if given the chance. The client began with the suggestion I adapt and incorporate the historic Baroque reredos currently sitting somewhat absentmindedly at the back of the cathedral into a new focus for the sanctuary. The result was quite striking; one of these days I may share it with the readership. The cathedral is planning some further embellishments, though of a less felicitous nature. The cathedral Facebook page recently featured a maquette for a new shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe to be installed in one of the church's currently empty side-chapels. I have not been able to track down any other information about it, even the designer.

Models are not always useful, and I presume there will be a bit more to the design than currently shown. It would appear that what I thought at first was an altar engaged by its south side to the wall is in fact a prie-dieu. I have to admit that while I'm troubled by the design, it is not without interesting aspects; one could easily see it being turned, with a bit more symmetry and a hint more detail, into something with an almost Art Deco feel. However, as it stands, it is currently an assemblage of jagged, unsettling shapes framing a de-contextualized image of the tilma. It may be well-designed by contemporary artistic standards, but I'm not sure I could pray there. It is mute. There is none of the richness of Mexican Catholicism; the only thing Baroque about it is its gilding. And it is a pity, for, as a friend of mine pointed out, this would be an ideal location, being rather self-enclosed, for a small-scale Baroque reredos bursting with rich symbolism that would pay homage to the Empress of the Americas--a manifestation of a venerable Catholic culture that was already nearly a century old when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.

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