Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Sweet Controversy

Artist: Cosimo Cavallaro Title: Sweet Jesus Date: 2005 Medium: Chocolate

As we all know artists have created controversial works for a long time but, especially in recent decades. Sometimes it seems that it is almost a requirement to stir up some trouble in order for an artist to be seen and get their name and their works out there. One of the most controversial works of the last few decades is Piss Christ by Andres Serrano (1987) ; but, I personally do not find this work to have as much interest for students or provide a teachable moment as strong as discussing Sweet Jesus by Cosimo Cavallaro (pictured above).

One of the main reasons for this is because of a great interview that was on Anderson Cooper 360 where the artist and Bill Donohue, current president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the U.S., go head to head arguing over the appropriateness of the image. It was originally displayed during Holy Week prior to Easter in March 2007 at the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan, but it was taken down after receiving threats from Bill Donohue. During the interview, both men make valid points and also act completely juvenile slinging insults back and forth as if they were in the schoolyard, including Donohue saying that the sculpture should go to New Jersey because that's where New Yorkers send their trash...way to anger an entire state there...and Cavallaro claiming that he intended no controversy...sure you didn't, you just happened to make a life-size nude Christ sculpture and just happened to have it displayed prominently during Holy Week, it must have been a total coincidence right?

It is a great clip to open up discussion about opposing sides to every work of art, controversial artworks, critical thinking and not always taking everything you hear/see/read at face value, and examining a cleverness about the work that the artist never stated in the interview: chocolate is directly related to Easter even though it isn't part of the religious tradition at all, yet the work relates to the Eucharist of the Mass (THE focal point) where one consumes the body and blood of Christ, because one can literally consume this chocolate image of Christ. Personally, I think it was a really clever choice of materials and timing of the exhibition that relates to ideas of consumerism, religion, and challenging politically correct conventions. It is great for students because they are always ready to comment after viewing the work and the video clip. Usually as I am showing the clip I hear students say "oh my God" and "whoa" when Donohue verbally slams New Jersey and calls artists and people in SoHo losers.

You can find the work with some audio commentary by Cavallaro at his website:

Below is the clip from YouTube so you can judge for yourself.

May inspiration and creativity be with you!

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