hroughout history, our art has been a primary indicator of what we
humans consider important. The sheer volume of art depicting Christ bears witness to his
consistent popularity in the Christian West for two thousand years. Our Jesus evolved as
we did, at times suffering, at times triumphant, Judean, or, eventually, American - we
were stretching our imaginations to the transcendent and unknowable, and our reach was
always bound to exceed our grasp.
As the auspicious year 2000 approached, however, it
was a jolt to find, as we at the National Catholic Reporter did, that scarcely anybody
outside strictly church circles even mentioned Jesus amid the millennial hype. So NCR
launched a competition to see, first, if anyone cared. We found they did, far and wide.
Next, we wanted to see who Jesus might be for our time.
More than 1,000 artists produced almost 1,700 images. From theses emerged Janet
McKenzie's "Jesus of the People." This great work turned out to be a
controversial Jesus. Of course. Were it otherwise, he would scarcely be kin to the
original, the charismatic messiah who stirred things up and, for better or worse, left no
Just as intriguing as McKenzie's Jesus, though, was the very range of images, a
dazzling display of the human imagination rising to a special occasion. Wrote Fr. Michael
Coleman from the Midwest: "It is not often - I can't think of anything similar - that
the religious imagination of the people is explored and documented at a given historical
moment, and specifically regarding the person who lies at the heart of the Christian
This exhibition and others to follow it constitute a small but focused effort to bring
to a wider public not only the winner, but the extraordinary variety that this search