Tuesday, October 2, 2018


FOR us, Oscar Wilde is a beloved saint of Antinous. Now the New York- and Ireland-based artist duo David McDermott and Peter McGough are enshrining him in a new installation, The Oscar Wilde Temple, located in a Victorian church in London.

It follows upon the artists' success with the same OSCAR WILDE TEMPLE project at a church in New York's Greenwich Village last year.

London's Oscar Wilde Temple, which runs 3 October 2018 until 31 March 2019 at Studio Voltaire, 1A Nelsons Row London SW4 7JR, will be free to visit and open to "all faiths and non-believers alike," the artists said in announcing the project.

It can also be booked "for LGBTQ+ marriage celebrations, naming ceremonies, vow renewals, memorials and markings of other important occasions," with proceeds from private events going towards LGBT homelessness charity the Albert Kennedy Trust.

Upon entering the space, visitors find a first assembly of portraits depicting historical LGBT figures, many of whom championed gay rights or were otherwise killed because of their sexuality and gender identity.

Paintings of gay icons and activists Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Xulhaz Mannan become constellations of martyrdom adjacent to the installation’s main event: the hagiography of Wilde. 

They illuminate the twisted heritage of queer advancements and reactionary violence against those advancements.

It symbolizes how the queer community must often rejoice and suffer in equal measure.

And the dim mood lighting of the temple recalls that of a funerary chapel, creating an atmosphere of meditation and mourning.

The Victorian fabric covering many of the temple walls is florid but altogether muted in a silent, muddy palette. 

Votive candles in purple-tinted glass dot the temple’s landscape, asking us to remember the dead.

Turning to McDermott and McGough's main focus, the deification of Wilde, we see a variety of mementos and devotionals. Paintings, sculptures, and quotations argue for Wilde’s foresight and forbearance on queer history.

The most elaborate of these examples is Oscar Wilde Altarpiece (2017), which depicts Wilde as a kind of Roman god or Catholic saint. He stands in Victorian dandy garb, hands clasped and chin pushed slightly up to confer a sense of grace. 

He is perched above his prison number from Reading Gaol, C.33, in a triumphant yet relaxed posture.

Just behind the figure, a stained-glass image of Jesus peers into the temple, his image beckoning viewers to connect Wilde’s narrative to a number of Christian martyrs who wilfully died for what they believed in.

This sly juxtaposition makes a case for Wilde's sanctification as an icon of queer suffering.

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