Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Barry: Bethlehem Baptist Church

Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Barry: Bethlehem Baptist Church

Article excerpt

Robert Barry

BETHLEHEM BAPTIST CHURCH

Passing through Rudolph Schindler's Bethlehem Baptist Church, one witnessed fifty-one glimmering words, which whispered from the walls of this nearly forgotten architectural monument. One of only a few modernist masterpieces still intact in South Central Los Angeles, and one of even fewer located in this once-segregated neighborhood (the result of restrictive housing covenants), the church was built in 1944 to serve an African American congregation. It would later be sold and then abandoned before undergoing a partial renovation by Reverend Melvin Ashley in 2013. After briefly serving his congregation, Faith-Build International, the church is up for sale once again. Gallerist Thomas Solomon discovered the vacant site and invited Robert Barry, the inveterate champion of nearly invisible interventions that nonetheless engage the (often overlooked) architecture that surrounds us, to propose a project.

The building, whose recently repainted cruciform tower punctuates the sky, stands in contrast to the liquor store, auto shop, and coin laundry that surround it in this modest working-class neighborhood. As one entered the church, the horizontal bands of the building's stucco facade gave way to shifting light within the hushed interior. Below Douglas-fir ceiling rafters, Barry installed twelve-inch-tall, almost translucent Century Gothic vinyl letters adhered directly to the walls. These crisscrossed the white interior walls of the spacious two-story structure, some inscribed diagonally, upside down, or backward, each word nearly invisible until the passing sun revealed it. …

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