Vienna art exhibit demeaning Christ and apostles sparks controversy

Vienna art exhibit demeaning Christ and apostles sparks controversy

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn


A display at the Cathedral Museum in Vienna, Austria that features obscene depictions of the apostles and demeaning portrayals of Christ has provoked anger and calls for the exhibit to close, Reuters reports.

The Cathedral Museum of Vienna had put on a retrospective exhibition honoring the 80-year-old artist Alfred Hrdlicka.  One of the pictures contained what Hrdlicka described as a “homosexual orgy” involving the apostles at the Last Supper.  Another artwork depicting the Crucifixion shows a soldier simultaneously beating Christ and holding his genitals.

Within a week, the Church removed the picture of the apostles from the museum, following the orders of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

“"This has nothing to do with censorship, rather [it] corresponds with the understood ‘reverence for the sacred’," the cardinal's spokesman said in a statement.

"It is also an act of respect towards those believers who feel this portrayal offended and provoked them in their deepest religious sensitivity," the spokesman continued.

A blank wall from which the painting was removed now marks the entrance to the display.

Curator Martina Judt said the museum chose to show that controversial works inspired by religious imagery can be discussed without taboo. 

“People have said the Catholic Church has become a lot more liberal," she said. "But in the end, the reactions show this perhaps isn't the case.”

Bernhard Boehler, the museum’s director, defended Hrdlicka, saying, "We think Hrdlicka is entitled to represent people in this carnal, drastic way.”

“I don't see any blasphemy here," Boehler said, speaking of the crucifixion scene where a Roman soldier beats Christ and holds his genitals.  "People can imagine what they want to."

The exhibit’s most disputed work, “Leonardo's Last Supper, restored by Pier Paolo Pasolini,” displayed the apostles sexually abusing each other.  Hrdlicka said he presented the apostles in that manner because there are no women in the Leonardo da Vinci painting which inspired it. 

Hrdlicka, a communist and atheist, has said the Bible is the most thrilling book he has ever read and that religious imagery forms a central core to his work.  He said the Last Supper piece was not intended as an attack on the Catholic Church.

"There was such a reaction to its physicality. For me it was quite surprising the museum wanted to show the piece in the first place," Hrdlicka told Reuters.

"If the Cathedral Museum is having problems now, it's not really my affair, it's for the Cathedral Museum to deal with.”

Both Boehler and Hrdlicka compared the controversy to the one that resulted from Danish cartoons showing unfavorable depictions of Mohammed. 

Boehler said the reaction also reminded him of the response to Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

“The Crucifixion was brutal and it would be a lie to say everything in our world is nice," he said.

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