NEW YORK (Reuters, March 30, 2007)) – A Manhattan art gallery canceled on Friday its Easter-season exhibit of a life-size chocolate sculpture depicting a naked Jesus, after an outcry by Roman Catholics, including the League and US Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
The sculpture “My Sweet Lord” by Cosimo Cavallaro was to have been exhibited for two hours each day next week in a street-level window of the Roger Smith Lab Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.
The display had been scheduled to open on Monday, days ahead of Good Friday when Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus. But protests including a call to boycott the affiliated Roger Smith Hotel forced the gallery to scrap the showing.
“Your response to the exhibit at the Lab Gallery is crystal clear and has brought to our attention the unintended reaction of you and other conscientious friends of ours to the exhibition of Cosimo Cavallaro,” Roger Smith Hotel President James Knowles said in a statement addressed to “Dear Friends.”
“We have caused the cancellation of the exhibition and wish to affirm the dignity and responsibility of the hotel in all its affairs,” the statement said.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights had called for a boycott of the hotel, writing to 500 religious and secular organizations.
“This is an assault on Christians during Holy Week,” said Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the league, which describes itself as the largest U.S. Catholic civil-rights group.
“They would never dare do something similar with a chocolate statue of the prophet Mohammad naked with his genitals exposed during Ramadan,” she said before the cancellation.
The archbishop of New York called the sculpture “scandalous” and a “sickening display.”
“This is something we will not forget,” Cardinal Edward Egan said in a statement.
Matthew Semler, the artistic director of the gallery, said earlier that the hotel had no knowledge of what the gallery planned to show and was being unfairly targeted. Moreover, he said the work was not irreverent.
“It’s intended as a meditation on the Holy Week,” Semler said of the sculpture, which depicts Jesus as if on the cross. Easter Sunday, this year April 8, is celebrated as the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
New York is familiar with clashes between art and religion. In 1999, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to withdraw a grant from the Brooklyn Museum of Art for a painting depicting the Virgin Mary as a black woman splattered with elephant dung adorned with cut-outs from pornographic magazines.
Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a different approach. “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.”
– By Daniel Trotta
© Reuters 2007.