Vienna cardinal expresses regrets about controversial artwork display

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn


After a controversial piece of artwork depicting the apostles engaged in sexual acts was removed from an exhibit at the Vienna cathedral’s museum, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has expressed his “explicit regret” that the work was exhibited, reports.

The Cathedral Museum of Vienna had put on a retrospective exhibition honoring the 80-year-old artist Alfred Hrdlicka.  One of the pictures depicted what Hrdlicka described as a “homosexual orgy” involving the apostles at the Last Supper. 

Another sketch depicting the Crucifixion showed a soldier simultaneously beating Christ and holding his genitals.

The obscene depiction of the Last Supper was removed from the exhibit within a week.

On Wednesday morning, Cardinal Schönborn released a statement in which he explained why the exhibit had taken place and why the Last Supper artwork should not have been displayed.

The cardinal said the Cathedral Museum did not identify with every work of Hrdlicka it hosted.  In some of the artworks, the cardinal said, “he oversteps the essential threshold of respect for the Sacred. From the point of view of committed Christians, certain of his works must quite clearly be rejected.”

“I obviously would not have agreed to have blasphemous or pornographic works exhibited,” the cardinal continued.  “I therefore explicitly regret that a work of this kind was exhibited without my knowledge. I ordered the particular work, which committed believers find deeply distressing, to be removed on 20 March.”

The cardinal also noted the artistic contributions of Hrdlicka. 

“Hrdlicka is one of Austria’s most notable living artists who, probably more than any other living artist, has devoted himself to the suffering and downtrodden human being and has appealed for ‘compassion’ with the ‘Passion,’” the cardinal said, according to 

“He expresses this ‘compassion’ in a most perturbing way,” the cardinal said, citing prominent Hrdlicka works that include a Holocaust Memorial in front of a Vienna gallery.

“It is for this reason that I agreed to an exhibition of his works at the Cathedral Museum, albeit without detailed knowledge of the individual works to be exhibited.”

Cardinal Schönborn said that though Hrdlicka claims to be a communist and an atheist, throughout his life he has dealt with biblical subjects, “especially the sufferings of Christ.”

“He nevertheless has a burning interest in the Holy Bible, and has personally admitted that he has a great longing for faith,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Schönborn concluded his statement saying that Catholics must welcome the fact that artists who are not Catholic “occupy themselves so intensely with biblical subjects.”

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