This is the stunning glass window commissioned by the authorities of the 13th-century Cologne cathedral to artist Gerhard Richter (read more about the technical background on Wired, also the source for the image; more pictures in the photo gallery on Der Spiegel). The original window had been destroyed in World War II and replaced in the 1950s by a nearly transparent piece of glass.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner has been critical of this work, and reportedly would have preferred a more traditionally figurative subject, for example with representations of saints or 20th century martyrs. He also apparently told a local newspaper that Richter’s window seemed more fit for a mosque. He did not show up for the unveiling of the work.
In centuries past, the church has always been a very smart investor in two commodities: real estate and art. The Catholic church in particular is one of the largest real estate owners worldwide – and, like it or not, the steward of a large chunk of the West’s artistic heritage. And the point is that, before it becomes heritage, all art is contemporary. The Sistine Chapel was scandalously weird too, once upon a time.
Smart mosque builders will be sure to follow the Cardinal’s advice and commission contemporary artists and architects to contribute their work. (A non-religious building, the Parisian Institut du Monde Arabe, designed by Jean Nouvel and Architecture-studio and opened in 1987, comes to mind as a trailblazer among academic and scientific institutions).
Christian churches have long entrenched themselves into their well-defended corner of contemporary cultural discourse, mounting their periodic attacks on the spectrum of modernity from scientific evidence (Creation Museums? please) to reproductive rights (see the nonsensical law governing IVF in Italy). If they can re-engage in a wider discussion with society mediated by contemporary art, which they have not done in a long time (except for the occasional private chapel by a modern master and a flurry of work by second-rate artists), that is not a bad step.