Top 10 Offensive Religious Art Pieces Part One
May 18, 2009 | Lists
It used to be that the best art was religious art. Churches were the major patrons of the arts and they commissioned masters to give the faithful something to look at during those interminable hours of sweating while listening to Latin jibber-jabber and dreading the arrival of the collection plate.
Great artists like Michelangelo did things like paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel likely because the church had the deepest pockets around – it was the Renaissance equivalent of paying the rent by drawing dirty cartoons for Hustler.
It was inevitable though that the bond between artist and the church would break The church lost its power and artists turned to other patrons, like big fat government grants to do a walk-in installation recreating the conditions inside a gorilla’s womb.
Religious art meanwhile has become almost as offensive to the eyes as modern religious music is to the ears. The current Pope has said recently – that he would like to engage modern artists just like in the old days. The director of the Andy Warhol Museum ’s response to the art that might be commissioned by the likes of Joseph Ratzinger was measured. “With luck it won’t be hideous,” he said.
We’re guessing though that galleries worldwide are unlikely to start clearing out their Pollacks to make way for Padre Paul’s Colorful Cassock Series. It is far likelier that when art and religion are mentioned in a news story, it will be because the former has horribly offended the latter. Should even a dime of taxpayers’ money have gone into the creation or exhibition of the work, or to the toilet paper used in the crapper of the gallery showing it, an upholder of the public virtue will be quoted, calling the work a disgrace. The artist meanwhile will offer a comment sure to alienate and antagonize about how his depiction of Christ crapping into a cowboy hat would lead to world peace if his audience had spent half the time in art school he did.
Here are 10 OFFENSIVE RELIGIOUS ART PIECES that have received mainstream press coverage.
10. “A Trilogy: The Iconoclasts,”by Colin Self (also known as “The Buddha’s Banana”): It’s not too often that you hear of a group of incensed Buddhists raising a ruckus over artwork they deem offensive to their faith. This is in part due to the fact that for many Buddhists, the Buddha was not a deity in the common sense of that word or someone who God took out on a boating trip and explained the mysteries of the universe to. This disconnect with the big bearded and mean one in the sky (and we don’t mean Richard Branson) probably softens their outlook a bit. Or maybe karma has them convinced that the offending artist should enjoy his chuckles now before returning in the next life as a dung beetle with a human sense of smell.
But in October, 2007, a display at the Saint Giles Street Gallery in Norwich England featuring a seated Buddha with a banana and a pair of eggs placed in such a manner as to suggest not lunch, but that the meditating one had succumbed to the natural male reaction of sitting in one place and being left with one’s own thoughts for an extended period of time. The protests died down when the offending statue was moved so as not to be visible to every passer-by.
9. Corpus Christi (Only Women Bleed) by Adam Cullen (also known as Homely JC): We will return to Australia — and to this very annual exhibition — later on in this list. First up we have “Corpus Christi (Only Women Bleed)”, which, like all great works of art, takes the second part of its name from an early Alice Cooper ballad. But the effrontery here had nothing to do with the artist’s choice in 80s glam rockers, but rather because one of the judges of the exhibition could not stomach what he called the “deliberate ugliness” of the work. So, while many of us have been in a gallery, looked at a painting worth more than the combined value of all our worldly possessions and those of the guy with the better car next door and remarked, “Christ, that’s ugly,”, this judge had a similar feeling for a painting of JC himself. And granted this isn’t exactly the “good looking hippy who takes baths” to which we’ve become accustomed. This guy looks like someone who didn’t need to worry about borrowing his parents’ car on prom night. But so what? He’s got a great personality.
8. “Feet First”, by Martin Kippenberger: We blogged about this one last September, a sculpture of a frog, his tongue hanging out, holding a beer mug in one hand and an egg in the other. It was either a statement on the angst of human life, or a prototype for the mutant ninja turtles… we’re not certain.
The piece was created in 1990 and went on display in museums around the world for the next 18 years. The person who created it also kept busy during that time with many projects, chief among them dying, which he did during that time. But it wasn’t until 2008 that “Feet First” received international attention. A local worthy in a small Italian town objected to the statue being on display at a local gallery and threatened a hunger strike until it was removed. What could have just ended in the gallery exhibition running till its closing date and the hunger-strike guy being given a ham sandwich the work. Showing the mighty weight of the church’s power in countries that are not in the third world, the small town refused to ban the exhibit and, presumably, the hunger striker has since hit a buffet or two. (Editor’s Note: While few churchgoers saw the likeness in our friend Terence the Toad here, it’s remarkable that a woman claiming the face of the Prince of Peace showed up on a tortilla, and who built a shrine to the holy foodstuff, was not made the target of Vatican intervention. See our Top 10 Oddball Jesus Sightings). became an international incident when Pope Benedict jumped in and condemned
7. (Bharat Mata) Mother India by M.F. Husain: India has more gods per square kilometer than any country on earth and not surprisingly the one that can draw the ire of zealous nationalists quicker than most is Bharat Mata — Mother India. Over 90-year-old painter M.F Husain found this out the hard way when he broke with convention and painted Mother India au naturel, writing the names of various parts of the country on her body (Hyderabad, not Delhi, got the belly). Nationalists did not take kindly to seeing the embodiment of their country in goddess form displaying so much flesh and the court cases started against Husain, who, though regarded as one of India’s most well-respected artists, was forced to live in exile for years, with the threat of mobs and possibly jail time awaiting him at home. But before we get too maudlin about some 90-plus-year-old national treasure type artist being forced into exile by a group of zealous dingbats, we should note that the story does have a happy ending. According to the report linked above, the judge said: “Paintings were a matter of perspective and cannot be the basis for initiating criminal proceedings.”
6. “The Ninth Hour,” by Maurizio Cattelan: With his successor looking like the kind of guy who divides his time equally between burning ants with a magnifying glass and pulling the wings off butterflies, it’s no wonder that Pope John Paul II is remembered in such a fond light by many. The PR effort that kicked into high gear following his death didn’t hurt either, starting immediately after his death, when his close aides said that on his death bed John Paul gave the papal equivalent of a Win One for the Gipper speech, despite his doctor saying that he hadn’t been able to talk for several days and that the day of his death was no different. Still, it worked and soon there was talk of doing the ecclesiastical equivalent of skipping him ahead a grade in school and fast-tracking JP’s case into sainthood.
It was amidst this orgy of papal worship that Maurizio Cattelan created The Ninth Hour, a life-size sculpture and set piece that takes up a room. It features John Paul on the ground after a meteorite just fell from the sky and crushed his legs. What does it mean? Is it a statement against the papacy? Does it reflect the randomness of existence and how no living being is under the protection of a divine being, no matter how expensive his robe? Is it meant to convey how unreliable the Weather Channel can be? Who knows, but it did draw the ire of church officials when it went on display at the Venice Biennele in 2001. It sold for $3 million in 2006.