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The New York Times

July 2006

Amid the Galleries, an Art-Filled Chapel by John Freeman Gill

The casual gallery hopper, stopping at 540 West 27th Street, across the street from Scores nightclub and a scrap metal recycler, might be forgiven for thinking he had wandered into an ordinary Chelsea art space. The rooms are hung with canvases, a hiply pierced young woman greets visitors, and on a recent morning there was even an artist on hand.

But this is no ordinary gallery. It is the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, which the artist, Alex Grey, calls a ''sacred space.'' Mr. Grey is a self-proclaimed mystic, whose psychedelic paintings -- some informed by his experiences while using LSD -- have adorned albums by the bands Tool and the Beastie Boys. He conceived of the chapel with his wife, Allyson, also an artist, as a place where artworks serve, in Mr. Grey's words, as ''potential portals to mystic reality.''

 ''I'm inspired by Tibetan Buddhists who feel that certain works of art can plant seeds of liberation in the mind streams of viewers,'' said Mr. Grey, a slender 52-year-old with blue eyes and a long, graying ponytail.

The chapel, a 3,000-square-foot cluster of rooms in a former warehouse, is filled primarily with Mr. Grey's eye-popping canvases. The mirrors that give the chapel its name are a series of 19 paintings and 2 mirrors intended to bridge the physical and spiritual realms. The artwork progresses from anatomical portraits -- Mr. Grey says he once worked at Harvard Medical School, preparing human cadavers -- to images of luminous spiritual energy.

Mr. Grey and his wife opened the chapel in 2004 with the help, he says, of $250,000 in donations. Since then it has been the site of many events, among them regular boisterous celebrations of the full moon.

But mostly, the chapel is serene.

''I tell my friends in California, 'Anybody can go up to the top of a mountain, wrap themselves in a white sheet and get in touch with their Buddha nature,' '' said William Radacinski, a retired parole officer who visits the chapel weekly. ''But my question is, 'How do I get in touch with my Buddha nature here on the street level?'' The chapel, he explained, ''helps me get my batteries charged.''

While Mr. Grey is pleased with the chapel, he harbors larger ambitions. ''Our goal,'' he said, ''is to create 21st-century sacred architecture.''

He even has an idea of what such architecture might look like. ''I've always had this notion of a spiralic pyramid,'' he said, his slender finger drawing a corkscrew swirl in the air.

Photo : Dan Hogan Charles

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