Rosalind Krauss’s landmark essay of 1979 on the grid form in art characterized the grid in equivocal terms as centrifugal and centripetal, as structure and framework, and most significantly for this discussion, as a vehicle for the conjunction of art and spirit. The grid provided artists with a means to surreptitiously reintroduce the spiritual into an art form that appeared, on the surface, to be wholly material. Taking her essay as its basis, this article looks at the work of two contemporary artists known for their adoption of the grid as a guiding motif. In recent years James Hugonin and Gerhard Richter have each produced a stained-glass window for the church using a grid system, here discussed in the terms set out in Krauss’s foundational text. Writing on the grid, it is said, has produced “reams and reams of artspeak” yet little in the way of sustained reflection on this visual tendency in art for the church. This article seeks to redress this oversight with reference to two particularly striking examples.
Stained glass windows created by Jean-Pierre Raynaud and Pierre Soulages for the Abbeys of Noirlac and Conques employ a minimalistic style sensitive to their Romanesque contexts but also express qualities one might call Cistercian, even though only one of the commissions was created for an actual Cistercian abbey. As a form of monasticism, “Cistercian” signifies values of simplicity, poverty, and austerity presented by the founders of the Cistercian Order as essential to the monastic life and embodied in the rigor of their architecture. Natural light is a key element in Cistercian fenestration, differing significantly from the display of color associated with Gothic stained glass. I argue that a form of neo-Cistercianism is evident in and exemplified by the works of Raynaud and Soulages for their respective abbey commissions, in which an aesthetic of restraint and economy aims, above all, to treat the configuration of light as the primary consideration.