Art is being held hostage by religious hooliganism this week, as the exhibition of a giant chocolate sculpture depicting a nude Jesus Christ was cancelled amidst death threats.
The problem with the statue, created by Canadian artist Cosimo Cavallaro, is that it depicts Jesus Christ with arms splayed as if on the cross, but unlike most images, does not include a loin cloth, showing an anatomically correct form in full view. The six-foot-tall sculpture–constructed of over 200 pounds of chocolate–was slated to begin its exhibition at the Lab Gallery in New York City Mon., April 2 and run until Sun., April 8. This is, coincidentally or not, Easter week–the holiest week of the year for the Roman Catholic faith and other Christian sects.
The controversy stems from the nudity of the figure, deemed offensive by many Catholics, as well as the confluence of the exhibition with Easter. Public uproar gained considerable support from eminent Roman Catholics when Cardinal Edward Egan decried it as “a sickening display,” and the head of the watchdog Catholic League Bill Donahue referred to it as “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.”
While Roman Catholics certainly have the right to boycott or protest this type of offence, the virulence and hatred with which the condemnation of this exhibition was carried out is a danger to civilized society.
Indeed, the Roger Smith Hotel –which houses the gallery in Manhattan–did not cancel the exhibit due to statements of outrage. Rather, the hotel was forced to call off the show out of safety concerns for its staff. The gallery had been accosted by death threats and other threatening calls. The news that the exhibition was cancelled was applauded by some in the Roman Catholic contingent who were not concerned that the show’s cancellation was the result of an act of terror.
It’s maddening to think that an artist and the staff of the exhibiting gallery may be forced to fear for their lives due to an artistic choice, but more maddening still when the capitulation of the gallery to the demands of the malevolent party is lauded in the press by a public figure, as when Donahue claimed he was “delighted with the outcome.”
This type of hate-mongering has been successful in eroding artistic freedom. In this case, art is the sole victim–not the parties whose sensibilities may be offended by it. It is imperative for society as a whole to condemn this overtly malicious action so it never becomes common practice. If it does, there is no telling how much damage our liberal democratic way of life will sustain.