Press Release

Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place

Event Date: 
14 September 2018 to 6 January 2019
New York, NY
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The first large-scale exhibition to provide a broad perspective on the practice and history of votive giving.

Featuring works dating from ca. 1500 BCE to the twenty-first century, the exhibition looks at those objects that humans have chosen to create and offer in their most intimate moments. Through the act of votive giving, people have always revealed how our dreams and hopes, as well as our fears and anxieties, find tangible form. Ittai Weinryb, associate professor, Bard Graduate Center, is the curator, together with Marianne Lamonaca, chief curator, and Caroline Hannah, associate curator, Bard Graduate Center Gallery. 

Linking the human and spiritual realms, the practice of votive giving is common across human societies. Almost anything can be transformed into a votive once it is charged with sentiment and meaning through a spiritual act such as prayer or meditation. Through this process, the votive becomes activated as the material representative, or agent, of the individual’s most private wish or vow. While votives are often made of modest materials such as clay, wood, wax, or metal and can be mass-market goods, they can also take the form of exquisite works of art. 

More than 250 works, dating from antiquity to the present, will be on view, including a rare ancient anatomical votive from the Louvre; an exquisite mid-fourteenth-century Italian sculpture of the Virgin and Child from the Metropolitan Museum of Art along with Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic objects from the Met’s collections; and more than one hundred votives from the folk art collection of the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, which have never been exhibited in the United States. Contemporary religious and secular objects will include rare votive paintings made by Mexican migrants from the Durand-Arias Collection, Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree, and objects left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, ranging from personal items such as woolen gloves to a custom- built Harley Davidson motorcycle. 

The Exhibition

Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place (Sept 14, 2018 - Jan 6, 2019) is organized into themes that illuminate the ways votive objects have been used while presenting opportunities to consider the commonalities among objects from different cultures and time periods. From the moment of intention to the site of deposition, the exhibition offers various pathways through the wide array of votive objects and practices that are on view. The exhibition is laid out on three floors of the Bard Graduate Center Gallery. While visitors may begin and conclude their visit in the first-floor gallery devoted to objects left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, all are welcome to pursue their own path through the exhibition. 


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