If You Can't Display Naked Chocolate Jesus in an Art Gallery, Where Can You Display Naked Chocolate Jesus? (a.k.a. You Can't Handle the Naked Chocolate Jesus!)
A recent article
on the BBC website details the successful efforts of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to remove the six foot chocolate sculpture entitled My Sweet Lord
from Manhattan's Lab Gallery.
Spokeswoman Kiera McCaffrey called the exhibit an "assault on Christians," and the report indicates that the timing of the exhibit—during Christian holidays associated with Easter—was problematic. I must say, when I first read this article, it made me think of two things—Everybody Loves Raymond
and the Piss Christ
In the episode "Marie's Sculpture" of Everybody Loves Raymond
, the plot revolves around a contemporary sculpture that Marie makes in art class. When she unveils it, everyone becomes uncomfortable by its...how you say? "vulvular"?...implications though she does't see this interpretation herself. She gives the sculpture to Raymond and Deborah, who are loathe to keep it on display. They
decide to donate it to the church, but the nuns—virgins, y'see!—won't take it, either. Hilarity ensues. The Piss Christ
photo by American photographer Andres Serrano features a crucifix (purportedly) immersed in urine. While the photo won the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts' "Awards in the Visual Arts Competition," its display in 1989 caused outcry among senators D'Amato and Helms.
By placing Naked Chocolate Jesus (NCJ) in this context, I'd like to consider the overlaps between religion, art, and viewing communities. Certainly, the Everybody Loves Raymond
episode uses Marie's sculpture for humorous ends; the adults express their discomfort with sexual knowledge and representation. Indeed, the only two characters who seem comfortable "appreciating" it are Frank (Raymond's father and the oldest man) who has few inhibitions and one of Raymond's adolescent twins. Again, pushing the hilarity and
the discomfort, Ray comments with relief that this particular twin likes the sculpture because his sexual preference has been in doubt. Heteronormitive-nanza! In contrast to Raymond
's wide viewing audience, I daresay few people heard of Piss Christ
in its heyday. In fact, it probably garnered most of its attention from those who railed against it. Not-so-oddly enough, I was able to find the Piss Christ
photo while no photo of Marie's statue exists on the web. Not surprising as
I'd assume Raymond
's viewership appreciates this sculpture hidden away.
In Naked Chocolate Jesus, we are presented with many possible issues, the first and most obvious of which are:
1) Why naked?
2) Why chocolate?
3) Why Jesus?
and other questions include:
4) Why now?
5) Why sculpture?
6) Why in crucifix position?
7) Why without cross?
Ok, let's start here. I'll link "naked" and "no cross" together because, in the traditional crucifix, Jesus is depicted hanging on a cross and wearing a loincloth. Because of artist Cosimo Cavallaro's changes, one necessarily asks one's self, "what is holding up Christ?" In and of itself, this seems disturbing because, questioning the lack of cross, we remember that humans were responsible for crucifying
Christ both physically and, through human sin, imaginatively. And, of course, as red-blooded Americans, we are taught to be ashamed and/or wary of our naked bodies.
As the son of God and Mary, though, Christ was a man and, as such, is indicated as having had manparts (please reference The Last Temptation of Christ
—and, hell, the DaVinci Code
for discomfort on the potential use of said manparts).
Second, "why crucifix?" Certainly, the statue would be a lot less provocative if it depicted Jesus, say, hanging out in one of the less violent Jesus poses. Of course, the nakedness would also be an issue here as well. Jesus preaching naked? Yikes! Ditto Jesus at the Last Supper naked. But, suffice it to say, Preaching Clothed Chocolate Jesus would not have generated the same kind of reflection as the NCJ.
Third, "sculpture" and "chocolate" seem to go together because pictures
of chocolate just don't have the same effect. Let me just say that a huge sculpture of anything at all rendered in chocolate would probably make me want to eat it, and I'm pretty sure that's the artist's intent. So, transubstantiation seems to be at play here. After all, "Take, eat. This is my body broken for you" is part of communion. Whether the bread/wafers and wine/grape juice of Communion are considered the actual body of Christ or just a metaphorical representation, this belief is central to most denominations of both Catholic and Protestant churches. How, then, might one consider Jesus rendered in a different, but still-edible, medium?
Fourth, considering Communion as a cornerstone of Christian worship, it actually seems fitting that this sculpture of Jesus should be displayed in conjunction with a Christian holiday. After all, I actually celebrated Christmas one year by watching Dogma
with my folks. In its own way (and
following Kevin Smith's comments), Dogma
reflects on both our ways of remembering and celebrating Jesus as well as our ways of straying from certain established rules. If I may
be so bold, it seems like My Sweet Lord
doesn't go far enough in asking people to reflect on their faith. After all, because of the medium and the purportedly inadvertent timing of display, My Sweet Lord
—Our Sweet Lord
?—seemingly begs to be a performance piece in which people eat parts of the sculpture.
What does it mean for Christians to believe that Christ died for their sins? Further, what does it mean that they reflect their faith by consuming the Host? And how does one's perception of, and "ownership" of, Christ emphasize the disconnectedness of denominations? Well, for starters, ask the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
At any rate, this sure beats the Easter I came across Rosemary's Baby