Art historian and religious studies researcher Dr Lieke Wijnia was awarded a gold medal by the Teylers Foundation’s Theological Society on 16 March for her essay ‘In Pursuit of the Sacred. The Museum as Laboratory in the Contemporary Quest for God.’ In the essay, she researched whether museums can be viewed as a replacement for churches, and whether visitors have spiritual experiences when looking at art. She recently won another award, which she will travel to Canada this week to receive: the first Postdoc Award from the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park. The award is for her research proposal on the spiritual dimensions of the work and reception of Piet Mondriaan.
Lieke Wijnia: ‘Mondriaan’s spiritual interests are often reduced to his interest in theosophy, and even then there’s little consensus on how to interpret this. I think that spirituality plays a more complex role in Mondriaan’s work and ideas, and that more nuanced research is therefore needed. My methodological approach to this is, how can we relate Mondriaan’s writings – in which he came up with and used new words to express his new ideas – to his paintings, the realization of his radical new vision?’
Why does Wijnia think her research proposal won? ‘I think it’s because it’s an interdisciplinary proposal that combines art history and religious studies. The general theme of the awards is Art & Knowledge, and one of the subthemes was ‘the Sacred’. In my research, I’m not just looking at the question of how the sacred is incorporated in works of art, but also at how works of art can act as potential sacred objects for their viewers. I believe that research into the theme of Art & Knowledge is relevant because works of art are visual expressions of knowledge, a completely different form of communication from texts. In the case of Mondrian, one of my questions is how the textual and visual forms that he uses to express himself complement each other as sources of knowledge. The visual arts are often seen as frivolous, decorative or even pointless, whereas they are an equally valuable form of communication as speeches or written texts.’
Wijnia will give a presentation on 26 June entitled ‘Knowing Through Seeing: Piet Mondrian’s Visions of the Sacred’, and will receive the award at the Company of Ideas Forum on Hornby Island, the small island off the coast of Vancouver that is home to the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park. In the run-up to the prize, Wijnia has already begun researching the form and role of spirituality in Mondriaan’s work and ideas. This has resulted in a chapter for the upcoming collection ‘Religion & Sight’ (Equinox Publishing). This research will form the basis of her presentation at the Company of Ideas Forum.
What are the findings of this first part of her research? Lieke Wijnia: ‘That although Mondriaan’s spirituality is closely linked to modern urban life, paradoxically enough it is based on fundamental premodern ideas about the universal nature of seeing. The painter aims for an objective, universal form of perception, which is in strong contrast to the increasingly subjective and individual form of perception that emerged in the 20th century. In the next part of my research, which I will carry out after I have received the award, I want to investigate how this paradox has affected the reception of Mondriaan’s work over the years. I hope in the end, once I’ve completed both parts of the research, to write a monograph on this.’
Dr Lieke Wijnia (Harlingen, 1985) is an art historian and religious studies researcher. She was awarded a PhD with the cum laude predicate in 2016 for her study of perceptions of the sacred during the Musica Sacra Festival in Maastricht. She teaches art history at University College Tilburg and is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Religion and Heritage at the University of Groningen, where she is helping organize an international conference on religious heritage and diversity that will be held in 2019. In her research, Wijnia focuses on art in which religion, heritage and politics intersect.
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