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World premiere brings “encounters with beauty” to the heart of the city


Courtesy of Katie Joy Daufenbach

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 04/07/23

"Encountering beauty can stir the viewer's soul, help them to slow down, contemplate, and invite them into a deeper awareness of their own interior life."

There are so many exciting projects in the works at Chicago’s Athenaeum Center for Thought & Culture, and one of the most fascinating is the world premiere of an abstract art exhibition honoring the Crucifixion. 

The exhibition, The Stations, features the art of Lucas Reiner.

As an artist, Reiner noticed how trees are used in Renaissance paintings to set the scene and stage important elements of a painting. Meanwhile, trees he encountered in Los Angeles seemed to symbolize the unnoticed, the forgotten, and the marginalized.

When telling the story of Christ’s passion, it seemed fitting to use these trees as symbols of these realities. His collection “engages the profound capacity of art to embody a universal human longing to comprehend suffering, loss, and the passage of time.”


After his mother’s death in 2008, over a period of seven years Reiner produced a series of watercolor studies, 15 dry point etchings, and 15 large-scale, chromatically variegated canvases, each of which is made up of multiple layers of raw tempera pigment, marble dust, dispersion, water and wax, resulting in a subtle luminosity.

So it was that in the wake of his mother’s death and processing his own grief, Reiner turned to trees to tell the story of the One who became marginalized for humanity, for you and for me. Instead of trees being in the background, merely to set the scene, he put the Tree in the foreground in this depiction of the Stations of the Cross, representing Christ, the “Tree of Life.”

Where the traditional representational depictions of the Stations that most of us grew up with ground us in the physical realities and details of the Passion, Reiner’s abstract works use texture, color, and the shadowy forms of trees to invite us into an almost mystical experience of the invisible realities of Christ’s journey to Calvary.

The exhibition has been a moving experience for viewers this Lent, enhanced by its setting, the Athenaeum’s newly completed Paradiso event space. Upcoming events related to the exhibition and other projects can be found at the Athenaeum events page.


I had the chance to catch up with Katie Joy Daufenbach, Associate Director at the center. 

What led to bringing Lucas Reiner’s The Stations to the Athenaeum Center?

A series of divinely inspired circumstances! Bishop Bartosic, our auxiliary Bishop here in Chicago, connected us with Fr. Paul Anel, a French priest and artist based in Brooklyn. It was Fr. Paul who told Lucas about the Athenaeum, and through that introduction we connected with Lucas. That began the conversation about bringing his Stations etchings and paintings to the Athenaeum. The paintings have never before been displayed, so it was very exciting to plan the world premiere together. 

Why are these encounters with sacred art so important, especially in a secular urban environment?

Our mission at the Athenaeum is to invite people into encounters with Beauty. In today’s secular, urban environment we need opportunities for quiet and contemplation. As human persons we were designed to be in relationship with our Creator. There is the famous St. Augustine quote that says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

An encounter with beauty can be that moment of rest in the divine presence. Encountering beauty and sacred art can stir the viewer’s soul, help them to slow down, contemplate, and invite them into a deeper awareness of their own interior life.

ArtBeautyCatholic Lifestyle
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