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Columbia Spectator Staff

I had just missed my bus by the narrowest of margins, and the flimsy East 72nd Street bus stop shelter was wholly insufficient to block the penetrating chill of the biblical wind. break Unwilling to become the next Inca Ice Maiden while waiting for the next M72 to arrive, I decided to escape the cold. A few blocks up from the deli where I ritualistically get my morning coffee and Clif bar, I stumbled upon Higher Pictures, an unassuming gallery announced by simple green awnings. Being on the Upper East Side, I anticipated prints of flowers, Parisian skylines, and water droplets that would complement tastefully decorated Park Avenue sitting rooms. To my most pleasant surprise, I found I had instead happened on an exhibition of provocative and intriguing social commentary. The show on feature was "For the Love of God," a collection of black-and-white photographs by Belgian artist Carl De Keyzer that examines the various ways in which Christian zeal manifests itself in the United States. De Keyzer first traveled to the United States in 1990 after becoming interested in how religion exerts unprecedented influence on American politics. From the Bible story pageants conducted by Mormons in rural upstate New York to the exploits of the "Sons of God" religious motorcyclists at Daytona Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla., De Keyzer sought to travel our country and document the multiplicity of ways in which Christian America seeks closer communion with its God. The prints are as striking as they are diverse. Despite the theatrical quality of the series—the result of heightened contrasts and an evident preference for featuring charged imagery and displays of extreme human emotion—the artist somehow manages to convey the authenticity of the religious passion in front of his lens. The Crystal Cathedral presents a young man and an older woman who is ostensibly his mother. While the rest of a megachurch's vast and varied congregation surrounding them directs its attention toward the hymnals and forward to the altar, the two cast their eyes reverently skyward, evidently privy to some deep spiritual truth. Their fervor is echoed in the unmasked faces of Klansmen in works like Cross lighting, Ku Klux Klan, Hico, and no less so in the smiles of the homely, lawn chair-bound women of The Hill Cumorrah Pageant, Palmyra as they proudly display several prints of a Hestonesque Christ in their laps. As an outsider, De Keyzer manages to faithfully convey the hope and violence that are an integral part of many of Christianity's countless permutations in this country, without presenting a reductionist critique in the manner of Michael Moore or Bill Maher. De Keyzer's portrait is objective and nuanced, moving viewers to seek a fuller understanding of what motivates the groups he portrays, rather than to immediately write them off as aberrant fundamentalists. Higher Pictures is located at 764 Madison Ave. The gallery is open from Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. "For the Love of God" runs through the end of February. Lorraine White is a Columbia College junior majoring in French and economics. Gallerease runs alternate Wednesdays. arts@columbiaspectator.com

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