A Sanctuary for Psychedelic Art Opens in the Hudson Valley
Every morning the artists Alex and Allyson Grey take cold showers, meditate, read aloud to each other and then strap themselves into an inversion table that tips them upside down, using gravity to stretch their spines.
The act of hanging this way was a suggestion from Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who is considered the father of LSD, synthesizing the psychedelic drug in 1943. “It’s supposed to bring blood to the brain,” Alex Grey, 69, said, his soft voice crackling like a dimly lit fire.
He and his wife, Allyson Grey, 71, are the founders and longtime directors of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a nonprofit organization that combines elements of a cultural institution and interfaith church in Wappinger, a town in the Hudson Valley. On June 3, they plan to open Entheon, a 12,000-square-foot exhibition space in a converted 19th-century carriage house on the chapel’s grounds that will be devoted to visionary art, which focuses on the artist’s psychedelic spiritual insights and mystical states of consciousness.
“We’re reinventing ourselves a bit,” she said. “I call it social sculpture — bringing a community together around visionary art for the purpose of uplifting people.”
On June 3, 1976 — exactly 47 years before Entheon’s scheduled opening — the Greys ingested a massive dose of LSD and were immersed in what they refer to as a “universal mind lattice,” an energy they feel connects all beings. The experience catalyzed their impulse to create a community focused on visionary art.
Entheon’s central element is Alex Grey’s magnum opus, “Sacred Mirrors,” a series of 21 paintings that depict life-size figures’ nervous, cardiovascular, lymphatic and other physiological systems. At one end of the room are three paintings, “Psychic Energy System,” “Spiritual Energy System” and “Universal Mind Lattice,” which portray human bodies as vessels for energies and higher consciousness that he believes enwrap us all.
Entheon will also feature artwork by leading visionary artists from around the world, as well as a gallery dedicated to Allyson Grey’s art, with paintings such as “Realms of the Unpronounceable” and “Chaos Order Secret Writing.” She uses a very fine Winsor Newton brush to paint a succession of microscopic squares, each a part of a complex geometric pattern that creates a larger rainbow mosaic.
The couple opened their chapel in 2004 in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, offering a space for members and the public to contemplate the practice of art as a spiritual path. It attracted fans of psychedelics, and metaphysics, who came to trip, pray and admire the Greys’ art.
In 2008 their nonprofit paid $1.8 million for 40 acres in Wappinger and moved the chapel upstate, though they were initially denied a property-tax exemption for a religious institution.
“At first no one really knew what they were. It was confusing,” said Joseph D. Cavaccini, a legislator for Dutchess County, as well as the Wappinger town historian. The courts eventually ruled in the chapel’s favor, he said.
The Greys for years held full-moon gatherings on the grounds, inviting guests to watch performers swing chains of fire in dizzying patterns. Initially, Allyson Grey said, “we made some mistakes and disturbed some neighbors, so we had to get better.” They have worked with the sheriff’s department to ensure visitors did not become disorderly and medically trained some of their current 17-person staff, six of whom live on-site.
Today, said Richard L. Thurston, the town supervisor of Wappinger since 2018, “they go by the book and have basically been a model citizen organization in town.”
With the opening of Entheon, “it’s not going to be exactly the same as it was,” Alex Grey said. “We have a museum space now and are a different kind of entity. We’ll probably not do so many ragers.”
He and his wife welcome the change in pace as they both struggle with post-Covid symptoms along with the need to raise money — they estimate $3 million — to complete their vision for Entheon’s exterior, where they hope to feature monolithic 3-D printed faces made of lightweight fiberglass reinforced concrete.
Curiosity about psychedelics and their role at the chapel are nothing new to the Greys. They have dedicated a room in Entheon to psychedelic relics, displaying Dr. Hoffman’s glasses, a strand of hair from the New Age guru Baba Ram Dass, some of Timothy Leary’s ashes, and 2,000-year-old Mayan mushroom stones.
“It’s understandable that people would say, ‘Oh, they’re a drug cult’ because we are a church and we talk about psychedelics,” Alex Grey said. “If you have a broader perception about how psychedelics have impacted human consciousness over a millenia, well, then you might see that actually this is not so unusual.”
Susan Aberth, a professor of art history at Bard College, agrees with that sentiment. “I think Alex’s work speaks to different generations in different ways, and it says something about the unmet needs of people by traditional religions that he and his wife continue to be relevant,” she said.
The Greys intend for the space to be one where people can visit after a psychedelic experience to have their visions affirmed. If laws around the legal use of psychedelics eventually loosen, it could also be adapted into a ceremony space for their use.
“It’s a place where Alex and Allyson are trying to make the case for the religious use of psychedelics,” said Rick Doblin, the founder and president of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit based in San Jose, Calif., that focuses on medical research and education related to psychedelic and cannabis use. “I think their art can help people bring a process of integration more into their daily life.”
The author and alternative-medicine star Deepak Chopra is an adviser to the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors and uses Alex Grey’s paintings in his lectures to help people understand abstract spiritual concepts about the connection between the body, mind, intellect, ego and spirit. He sees a larger purpose to places like Entheon.
“There’s no substitute for an immersive experience. That’s why people go on pilgrimages to holy places,” Dr. Chopra said.
He added: “If you look at all the things that are happening, social and economic injustice, mass migrations, pandemics, all of this is a projection of the separate conditioned mind,” he said, referring to the parts of a person’s thought patterns that are shaped by societal norms and cultural beliefs. “And once you have this experience of interconnectivity, it’s kind of abominable to you that you would engage in war or terrorism or destroy the environment.”