"When you're in New York" the sculptor Louise Nevelson once said, "you're in perpetual resurrection." She might have said the same thing about St. Peter's Lutheran Church, set in the heart of midtown Manhattan. In the 1970s the church made a radical move, scrapping its neo-gothic building for a sleek modern structure in the shadow of a skyscraper. The transformation was not just architectural. Inside, Nevelson created a shimmering chapel, while over the years artists and designers such as Willem de Kooning, Kiki Smith, and Massimo and Lella Vignelli produced works for the sanctuary. This fusion of modern art, architecture, and design was complemented by an innovative jazz ministry, including funerals for Billy Strayhorn and John Coltrane, and performances by Duke Ellington and other jazz legends. For the first time, this volume examines the astounding cultural output of this single church. Just as importantly, the story of St. Peter's serves as a springboard for wider reflections on the challenges and possibilities which arise when religion and art intersect in the modern city. Working from a wide range of disciplines, including art history, theology, musicology, and cultural studies, a distinguished group of scholars demonstrate that this church at the center of New York City deserves an equally central place in contemporary scholarship.
Dr. Aaron Rosen is the Lecturer in Sacred Traditions & the Arts at King’s College London. He is the author of Imagining Jewish Art and Art and Religion in the 21st Century.
"Aaron Rosen has brought together an impressively wide range of contributors to reflect upon the relationship of art to religious architecture at the present time. The history of the Lutheran Church of St Peter's, Manhattan, which still preserves its chapel commissioned from the sculptor Louise Nevelson, but dispensed with its triptych by the painter De Kooning, proves the ideal context through which to illuminate this lively debate. In addition to many different viewpoints on what Rosen terms 'the conventions of religious viewing', the 'jazz ministry' conducted at St Peter's over many years gains a welcome mention." Stephen Bann, Bristol University, UK
"Religion and Art in the Heart of Modern Manhattan is a comprehensive analysis of one of Manhattan's most fascinating religious buildings, and at the same time refreshingly different, as it fuses thorough scholarship on the architecture and art of St. Peter's with essays on its ritual and symbolic functions and offers a multitude of contexts and points of view. Essays on the Louise Nevelson Chapel within the context of the oeuvre of the artist and the architecture of midtown Manhattan are provided side-by-side with those analyzing the liturgy and the congregants' experience; together, they provide a more holistic understanding of the building. St. Peter's remains unique in Manhattan for the synergy between the theological and pastoral vision, on the one hand, and the architectural and artistic, on the other. Religion and Art in the Heart of Modern Manhattan is the perfect book counterpart to that vision, providing an equally unique confluence of voices. I anticipate that it will bring renewed - and certainly overdue - attention to this extraordinary building." Ena Heller, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, USA
"St. Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan demonstrates that modern art and architecture can speak to the spirit as eloquently as the art and architecture of earlier eras. This multi-dimensional study is must reading for anyone who cares about the place of religion in contemporary life and the place of art in contemporary religion." Pepe Karmel, New York University, USA