“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” Oscar Wilde
Twenty years in the planning, the Oscar Wilde Temple gloriously debuted in New York City’s Church of the Village. The artist duo David McDermott and Peter McGough have transformed the Russell Chapel into an opulent Victorian fantasy that replicates the sensual Aesthetic Movement championed by Wilde.
A brilliant Irish novelist, playwright, and poet Wilde was once the toast of London. His tragic trajectory from culture star to his sentence of hard prison time for sodomy was followed by social shunning and a penniless death. Both artists credit Wilde’s courage to fight homophobia as “an enormous influence on our personal and artistic journey.” The 9/11 debut of the secular Temple was a timely juxtaposition to the anniversary of the World Trade Center destruction, as well as the demagoguery of the current American political climate.
McDermott and McGough, once known for their performative “time experiment” had the couple living and working in nineteenth-century conditions, from no gas or electricity to starched collars and working exclusively with Victorian art materials. Pioneers of subversive gay paintings and photographs, the duo meticulously created their work in antique style. David McGough was not in attendance at the opening, as he renounced U.S. citizenship to live in Ireland, and was unable to get a visa. In opening remarks, Peter McGough offered profuse thanks for the support of the artistic community, particularly three women who were essential to the project. Independent curator Alison Gingeras is the organizer of the upcoming McDermott and McGough retrospective at Dallas Contemporary in Texas, and curator of a new section “Sex Work” in London’s Frieze 2017. The other women particularly credited were film and theatre producer Dorothy Berwin, and veteran public relations consultant Andrea Schwan.
Major support also came from the New York art community, including the Andy Warhol Foundation, Ugo Rondinone, Cindy Sherman, with an Advisory Committee consisting of luminaries like Laurie Simmons, Julie Mehretu, Marilyn Minter and Carroll Dunham.
The centrepiece of the Temple is a carved linden wood devotional sculpture of Wilde embraced by seven oil and gold leaf paintings. The works, inspired by Stations of the Cross paintings in Avranches, France are rendered in a deep and haunting Limoges blue palette. Based on actual newsprint engravings of Wilde, a golden haloed Wilde is depicted getting a haircut, at his infamous trial, and finally in his secret release from the prison Reading Gaol.
The Temple also presents an eclectic portrait gallery of contemporary LGBTQ “martyrs” of homophobia and AIDS. Among the deified is Alan Turing, the English father of computer science, Brandon Teena a transgendered Nebraska boy who was brutally murdered, and my old friend, Marsha P. Johnson, a New York City drag queen, performer, sex worker and activist.
A secondary altar honours those lost to and those who are living with AIDS. “Advent Infinite Divine Spirit, 1923” a painting from 1987, is accompanied by a votive candle stand, visitors book, and a space to leave mementos.
In 2018, the Temple and museum show will travel to Studio Voltaire in London. For now, the extraordinary Oscar Wilde Temple is available for private event rental, with all proceeds going to the neighbouring LGBT Center’s programs for at risk youth.
The Oscar Wilde Temple by David McDermott and Peter McGough at the Church of the Village NYC until December 2, 2017
Words Ilka Scobie Photos as credited below
Top Photo: McDermott & McGoughOscar Wilde Temple, 1917, MMXVII (installation view)Russell Chapel, The Church of the Village, New YorkPhoto Elisabeth Bernstein© McDermott & McGoughMcDermott & McGoughOscar Wilde Temple, 1917, MMXVII (installation view)Russell Chapel, The Church of the Village, New YorkPhoto Elisabeth Bernstein© McDermott & McGough
Middle Photo: McDermott & McGough Oscar Wilde Temple, 1917, MMXVII (installation view)Russell Chapel, The Church of the Village, New YorkPhoto Elisabeth Bernstein© McDermott & McGoughDetail of The Stations of Reading Gaol (IV. Oscar Wilde taking his constitutional.), 1917 McDermott & McGough Oscar Wilde Temple, 1917, MMXVII (installation view) Russell Chapel, The Church of the Village, New York Photo Elisabeth Bernstein © McDermott & McGough Detail of The Stations of Reading Gaol (I)