Saints, fire, brimstone and the turmoil they inspire are all over the walls of the Krannert Art Museum in “Apocalypse Then: Images of Destruction, Prophecy and Judgment from DÅrer to the Twentieth Century,” a show on loan to Krannert from the Ackland Art Museum in North Carolina.
Dating back five centuries, Albrecht DÅrer’s woodcut print series “Apocalypse with Pictures” and other works on exhibition don’t have a new story to tell. “It is, in fact, a story 3,000 years old,” said Timothy Riggs, curator of collections at Ackland. The idea of the apocalypse-a sudden and dramatic end of times-and its texts span thousands of years.
Officials at the Krannert said the museum is excited to host the exhibit, claiming it is both relevant and timely, particularly in a post-9/11 America and during a year already marked by natural disaster and a war.
“‘Apocalypse Then’ is not a history of apocalyptic thought or imagery,” Riggs wrote in literature for the exhibit. It is a show inspired by apocalyptic writing and thought, beginning with DÅrer and his woodcuts. Among the show’s other art notables are Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns and Ed Ruscha.
Art and religious experts agree there is evidence of man’s historical preoccupation, or at least fascination, with the apocalypse, and that the year 2000 transition to a new millennium reinvigorated an American interest in the apocalypse.
“Our interest seemingly hasn’t declined in the last five years. Swapping massive computer failure for the end of time, apocalyptic worry and uncertainty are as significant now as in DÅrer’s days,” said the show’s curator.
Pietro Arnese, editor of the Web site apocalypsesoon.org, said he is just one of many who believe in the apocalypse. “From loonies to Bible believers, plenty believe,” he said. He has been preparing for the apocalypse, although he contends its eminency is widely and hotly debated.
In a number of national telephone interviews conducted in 2002, 2003 and 2004 by Harris Inter-active, a global market research group, Americans reported being increasingly unsure or pessimistic about the state of the nation. A second public opinion poll, conducted by Gallup International, lists the spread of the Iraq war, terrorism and a failed economy as chief among Americans’ worries for 2005.
Diane Schumacher, director of marking for the Krannert Art Museum, said that the exhibition development committee, a group responsible for the scheduling and organization of exhibitions, felt “‘Apocalypse Then’ was an important show for the Krannert to host. The decision to exhibit the works was made long before the tsunami and other recent, tragic events,” she said.
“The exhibition is particularly interesting with the earthquakes and tsunamis. It makes a statement,” said Kathleen Harleman, director of the Krannert Art Museum.
One statement in particular had to be retracted. The art on an announcement card, a flood scene, was determined to be insensitive after the December tsunami affecting East Asia, said Schumacher. The card was pulled and kept for file and the museum.
Riggs had originally created the collection to celebrate the 500-year anniversary of “DÅrer’s Apocalypse with Pictures” in 1998. “The museum’s permanent collection and works on loan shaped the show,” said Riggs. Works were loaned privately and from the University of North Carolina’s rare book collection.
Riggs wanted to demonstrate the Judeo-Christian idea of the apocalypse and show how it has affected over 500 years of thought, secular and otherwise. Artists spanning the religious gamut drew inspiration from oppression, revolution and war. The result was the 66-piece collection, a “hop, skip and a jump” through five centuries as described by Riggs. Set for a millennial debut in 2000, the apocalyptic comparisons were rife.
“As the show was coming to a completion, people were talking about the apocalypse left and right,” he said. “I pulled back a little-I didn’t want this to be just a 2000 show.”
Arnese, not American but Italian, is preparing spiritually, staying closer to his Lord in “these confused times.”
“The time period described in the apocalypse is still future,” said Arnese. “We have been given the ‘Signs of the End’ by Jesus Christ which are the shadows of what is to come as a warning and encouragement for those who have ears to hear.”
“The similarities between the world events of 2005 and the apocalypse are not worth noting,” said Arnese. “The creation of Israel as a nation stands as a unique and a special sign. Israel is an integral part of the End Times prophesies,” he said. And, according to his Web site, the tsunami in East Asia might reveal itself to be an important event in determining the end of times.
“I need [God’s guidance] more than ever,” Arnese said. “No, I am not planning to [hide in] some particular refuge place nor hording foodstuffs and the like. I am living my daily life as usual-working, eating, visiting friends.”
The opinions and interpretation of Prof. Barbara Rossing of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, rebuke the 2000-year-old apocalyptic guessing game established by Rapture ideology and furthered by fundamentalists.
“The popular concept of the apocalypse has become doomsday-it means the world blowing up,” she said. “The apocalypse is not a predictive event.”
In her book, Rossing discusses the America’s misunderstanding of the revelation can be blamed on an incorrect interpretations, novels and people’s fixation on violence. Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed debunks myths of “end times” philosophy and shows why quibbles over the nature of the apocalypse are more than just theological. As Rossing writes in her book, “The Rapture is a racket.”
Rossing likens the apocalypse to The Wizard of Oz. Toto pulls back the curtain to expose the wizard. The apocalypse is like enlightenment-a revelation sans hellfire and brimstone.
“The word is common and in worldwide use, stripped of its religious content. [For people] not versed in the scriptures, the world evokes only a huge disaster of some kind. Christians believe, instead, that the biblical apocalypse is a totally different thing. Even in denominations’ perspectives, the apocalypse is believed to describe the final happenings of human history,” Arnese said.
“It seems to be popular now,” she said, “to adopt a fundamentalist interpretation of the texts. It’s not an event and it cannot be predicted. The Bible is not about predicting.”
Schumacher has been surprised at popularity of the exhibit. Students come to draw, others do research, she said. Matejowsky said it was difficult to gauge the popularity of the exhibition. The Krannert does not count the number of visitors for specific galleries or exhibitions, said Schumacher. Riggs reported the show had been generally well received at each of its exhibitions.
“Apocalypse Then” is on view through April 3. The exhibit will show once more before returning to North Carolina. “Apocalypse Then” will be exhibited Sept. 17th to Nov. 13, 2005, at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.