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Flushing church opens gallery

One of Flushing's oldest religious institutions is taking strides to become one of its newest cultural institutions.

St. George's Episcopal Church on Main Street opened its first-ever art exhibition Saturday, part of the three-century-old house of worship's plan to embrace the artistic identity of Flushing and New York City.

Dubbed "Altered States: Art and Faith," the 10-artist exhibition is being shown in the newly minted, three-room Francis Lewis Gallery located on the side of the church.

"They told me they wanted to make the church a focal point of the cultural community rather than just a focal point of the religious community," said Curator Darren Jones.

When Jones, a Scottish-born Hunter College graduate student, began his relationship with the church last spring, he said he was surprised by how welcoming the congregation was to bringing contemporary art into such a traditional setting.

"When we started, I said it has to be contemporary artists. I didn't want it to be really traditional with pictures of landscapes and oil-paintings and that might be quite challenging to the members of the congregation," Jones said. "But all I heard the whole way through was, 'No, we don't find it offensive, but we do find it challenging.' Everyone has remained open-minded enough to enjoy it, and if it can do that, I think it's successful."

Jones pointed to Dublin-born artist Vivienne Griffin's piece "In God We Trusted," as an example of this delicate balance. Griffin's idea was simple but powerful. She took 100 $1 bills and altered the iconic phrase "In God We Trust" that appears on American currency to make it "In God We Trusted," then circulated the bills.

"It changes this really grand statement. It's just a really subtle intervention to something everyone uses," Jones said.

Jones said the layout of the exhibition also allows people to feel more comfortable. Many of the pieces blend into rooms of the church, but still serve to challenge the viewer as they observe them.

"I think contemporary art is really detached from reality quite often. So another reason for the show is to bring it back into this social space," Jones said. "I think a lot of people find that the typical pristine white gallery rooms to be intimidating. Something I like to do is show these pieces in a place that already has a life to it."

Opened on Saturday, "Altered States" will run through May 18 and is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.

Jones said he is also planning other exhibitions for the summer and fall, including one showcasing the art of inmates at Riker's Island.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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