Friday, March 30, 2007

"I don't care if it rains or freezes ..."

Once again an artist is in the spotlight for offending a religion. I still remember my days on Usenet when I set myself the exercise of writing about "Piss Christ" strictly on its merits as a photograph (waxing lyrically over a free association with Debussy's "Cathédrale engloutie"). I was not in a position to write about Giuliani's attack on the Brooklyn Museum, when he was offended by a Virgin Mary that they exhibited; but now Daniel Trotta has reported for Reuters on a real goodie, in the literal sense of the word. This time the artist is Cosimo Cavallaro; and the controversy is over his piece, "My Sweet Lord," a life-sized sculpture of the crucified Jesus made out of chocolate. (A photograph is currently on Cavallaro's home page, but I have no idea how long it will remain there.) The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has responded with attacks on at least two fronts: the Roger Smith Lab Gallery, for planning to exhibit it in a street-level window for two hours of each day of Holy Week, and the Roger Smith Hotel, for their association with the gallery. As is usually the case with scattershot anger, it is hard to tell what is most offensive to the League: the medium of chocolate or the depiction of genitalia. My guess is that it is the depiction of genitalia in an edible medium, which may be all right for certain X-rated specialty shops but goes over the line when you know whose genitalia they are. As far as any questions of aesthetics are concerned, I find it hard to say very much on the basis of the one photograph available. With my limited knowledge of art history, I find that it has a bit of a Gothic feel to it, perhaps because that is a style of religious depiction I happen to like. Given the pun in the title, I have no idea how sincere Cavallaro was about his own religious convictions; but, whatever the feelings of the sculptor may have been, I see nothing wrong with taking this work seriously.

Post script: Four hours after I posted the above reflection, Trotta filed a follow-up story for Reuters. The exhibition of "My Sweet Lord" has been cancelled. The decision was made by James Knowles, president of the Roger Smith Hotel, where the Roger Smith Lab Gallery was a tenant. The artistic director of the gallery did not agree with his landlord's decision:

Matthew Semler, artistic director of the gallery, said he sent the gallery his letter of resignation to protest the cancellation and that "the ball's in their court" as to whether he might be convinced to stay.

He does not consider the piece irreverent and said he would look for another venue to display it.

"I saw it as meditation on all those issues: the fact that it's chocolate, the fact that it's nude, that the chocolate is black," Semler said.

While Mayor Giuliani went ballistic over the Brooklyn Museum, Mayor Bloomberg has been much more of a pragmatist:

"If you want to give the guy some publicity, talk more about it, make a big fuss," Bloomberg told WABC radio. "If you want to really hurt him, don't pay attention."

I agree entirely. Since, as I stated above, I rather liked the sculpture (on the basis of its photograph), I hope that Cavallaro derives some benefit from this tempest in a pot of "hot chocolate!"

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