Blanketing the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s iconic masterpiece, “The Last Judgment,” alludes to the ultimate fate of humanity as it faces the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Created in the 16th century, the poignant painting in Vatican City distinguishes the pure from the evil, as some are sent to heaven while others are consigned to hell.
In a new exhibition at Da Vinci Art Alliance, Philadelphia-based architect and artist John James Pron is transposing the painting’s content to themes of 2019.
As he swaps crucifixes for assault rifles in the arms of angels, Pron’s “Not-So-Fast Last Judgement” asks its viewers to consider the effects of today’s crises – before it’s too late.
“I’m not focused on what happens next,” Pron said. “I’m not focused on heaven nor hell. I’m focused on the day before the last judgment – or any day before the last judgment. In other words, I’m focused on today and what is happening today.”
Pron, who taught for several years with the Department of Architecture at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art before retiring, has always tried shedding light on social issues through his drawings and even his architecture.
In a sense, Pron is working to parallel Michaelagelo’s own propensity in using art to evoke apprehension about the current state of the world and, essentially, who should suffer the consequences.
“It always was a terrifying painting when Michaelangelo did it,” Pron said. “It was scary not wanting to go to hell. But, it’s equally terrifying that this is the world.”
In his upcoming exhibition, which runs from Oct. 6 to 27, Pron is working to transform the second floor of Da Vinci Art Alliance, 704 Catharine St., into a sanctuary of sorts, as he strives to reimagine the Sistine Chapel on a much smaller sale.
Mirroring the official residence of the pope, which is almost entirely covered in paintings, most of the gallery space will also be covered in art, including the walls and parts of the ceiling. A “secular” altar will also be showcased, as it holds a book of personal revelations, as opposed to the Holy Bible, in which audiences are welcome to share their thoughts.
“Everybody knows (Da Vinci Art Alliance’s) downstairs gallery,” Pron said. “Can I take that second-floor gallery and make it into a little Sistine Chapel? Treat it with dignity.”
The exhibition’s epicenter is “Not-So-Fast Last Judgement” itself, a 9-feet-high and 14-feet-wide work comprised of 28 interconnected sketches displayed on a single wall.
The series of Renaissance-style drawings manifest a concoction of current events, touching on immigration, climate change, the opioid crisis, the #MeToo Movement, health care, gun laws and foreign policy – to name a few.
“You get up close and you see that that angel is not holding a rosary but it’s holding a planet earth that is dripping with overflooding waters,” Pron said.
His interpretations of foreign figures, such as President Donald Trump, President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are discreetly sketched throughout the work.
Though Pron’s project derives from Michelangelo’s masterpiece, he says there is, perhaps, a critical difference between the two artworks.
While Michelangelo’s creation could suggest prayer as a source of resolution, Pron attempts to communicate a more active message to his audiences.
“My point is – don’t worry so much about what happens later,” Pron said. “Prayer is not enough. Not that I should say you shouldn’t pray, but you need to do something. You need to be active in dealing with the problems of the world and making it better. So, don’t worry so much about yourself, worry about everyone else in the world around you and what you can do to face this and deal with this…While you’re here on earth, be active. Be an activist. Be concerned. Look at these issues and do something.”
Pron’s piece is composed of less patriarchs and more people, encompassing a range of races, ages and socioeconomic statuses.
In his eyes, these are the beings who deserve our time, attention and compassion.
“For me, it’s a revelation to see all of these different aspects – how I feel strongly about things,” Pron said. “Maybe I’m not out there throwing water balloons at the police or anything like that, but I can make drawings that can challenge students to think twice…I have a history of making drawings that raise social issues. They may be pretty drawings. They may be architectural, but also I have a point to be made.”
For more information, visit www.davinciartalliance.org/not-so-fast.