Kiki Smith
The Chapel of Mary’s Mantle

Creating a chapel was a long-cherished wish of American artist Kiki Smith, which has now been fulfilled. The art object on the Domberg in Freising in the immediate vicinity of the Diözesanmuseum with a view over the town was opened on October 7, 2023 as the third contemporary position in the context of the Contemporary Art series for the Diözesanmuseum Freising  - after the light space by James Turrell A Chapel for Luke and his scribe Lucius the Cyrene (2022) and the sculpture in the atrium of the Museum Arcangelo (Freising), (2021-2022) by Berlinde De Bruyckere.

During her visit in 2019, Kiki Smith intuitively sensed the place next to the Diözesanmuseum on the edge of the Domberg. This is where her "sanctuary" was to stand as a walk-in sculpture. From the outset, the centerpiece was to be a painted glass window. "On the west side of the chapel, an oval stained glass window will catch the evening light. Right above the center of the window will be a painted blue moon reflecting the night," she predicted at the time. Over the next four years, Kiki Smith developed further ideas and, in collaboration with the architects Brückner & Brückner, a unique space was created. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is called The Chapel of Mary's Mantle. It has become a wonderful place of contemplation, a space of refuge and silence.

The architecture

The chapel was designed by architects Brückner & Brückner, who also rebuilt the Diözesanmuseum. It has a floor area of four by four meters and is six meters high at the top. Peter Brückner described it as "a kind of shrine". The material is sensational: covered old roof tiles. The result is a completely recycled house of worship! Beavertail tiles all around, including the floor. Following an appeal by the museum director throughout the archdiocese, they were found on the old church in Ruhpolding, which needed to be re-roofed. They have been artfully layered by hand over a long period of time; in height they form a vault. The lines of the light-colored joints form wonderful geometric patterns. Niches invite you to sit and linger. The oak portal echoes the color and texture of the bricks. The shape of the roof is reminiscent of a wayside shrine, a religious monument often found along the roadside, especially in Bavaria.

The works of art

Kiki Smith's artworks in this warm, dark room glow and shine, reflecting the light coming in through the window and door: the aluminum bird floating from the ceiling, gilded with white gold and yellow gold; the network of shimmering stars in white bronze; and the bronze dove on the roof, visible from afar, plated with high-carat gold. The blue mantle of the Virgin Mary hangs simply on a hook on the wall, a cloth woven in jacquard technique from wool, cotton and linen. And the mantle is also an image of light. Its motifs are based on the series The Light of the World (2017), cyanotypes by the artist that capture the light reflecting off the surface of a river using the old photographic process of "iron blue printing". The full moon in soft blue in the oval opening gives the room a mystical aura. Kiki Smith has painted it on glass. The window (210 x 130 cm) with hand-blown genuine antique glass was created in a long and varied process of painting and etching, grinding, washing and firing in collaboration with the Mayer'sche Hofkunstanstalt in Munich.

Virgin Mary: Moon and Mantle

Kiki Smith is more concerned with the existential questions of being human than almost any other contemporary artist. Many of her works are inspired by Christian iconography and religious narratives. The historical collections of the Diözesanmuseum, for example, with their paintings, sculptures and countless objects of popular piety, hold a great fascination for her. "I have a theory that Catholicism and art go well together because they both believe in the physical manifestation of the spiritual world  - that you have a spiritual life through the material world...", she says. When she herself transforms an image of reflected light into a textile fabric, she transforms the immaterial into the material. Kiki Smith thus links her Marian mantle with other Catholic relics and miraculous textiles such as the Shroud of Turin, the Veil of Veronica and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

As a child, the reflected light of the moon made her see God as the sun and people as its reflection: "I always thought, oh, I want to be like the moon. I want to be ... the evidence on earth." The moon has an enormous attraction for her, "but it's also just one of the most beautiful things you can see in the night sky," says Kiki Smith, comparing it to the Virgin Mary: "She's something you can talk to. The sun is more cruel, you can't look it in the eye, whereas you can confide all your longing, prayers, sadness and everything else to the moon."

"Maria breit den Mantel aus" is one of the best-known Marian hymns (first printed version around 1640): "Maria breit den Mantel aus / Mach Schirm und Schild für uns daraus; / Laß uns darunter sicher stehn, / bis alle Stürm' vorbeigehn." (Text version by Joseph Hermann Mohr, 1891). Kiki Smith has repeatedly dedicated herself to this figure: "I am a great fan of the Virgin Mary. I grew up as a Catholic. Many of my works refer to the Virgin Mary. I've done many versions and reworked them in different ways." Kiki Smith's famous sculpture Virgin Mary from 1992 spreads out her arms because she is ready to embrace everything. She stands for this open compassion that envelops us, but which we can also see as a model for our behavior in the world, says the artist. In her understanding, Mary's mantle encompasses the whole of heaven and all the heavens and includes everything that is given to us. Mary asks us and challenges us to wrap ourselves in her mantle and extend ourselves through compassion and acts of radical empathy. In offering her mantle, Mary encourages us to join her in her unconditional love for all sentient beings. Just as she is transformed through her suffering into a figure of hope, she asks us to wear her mantle and transform ourselves.

©Diözesanmuseum Freising, Photos: Thomas Dashuber