FaithWorld

The Last Supper as a gay orgy? Uproar in Vienna…

April 7, 2008

Museum visitors study Alfred Hrdlicka paintings of Jesus’s scourging and crucufixion, 7 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderThe sketchy black-and-white picture shows the Twelve Apostles drinking, dancing, and well, getting extremely friendly with each other. It certainly isn’t the version of Christ’s Last Supper that most people are familiar with…

Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka‘s version of the Last Supper as a homosexual orgy was supposed to be one of the highlights of an exhibition at the Dommuseum, the museum of Vienna’s Roman Catholic cathedral. An initial favourable review by the local Catholic news agency didn’t seem to find anything wrong. But blink and it’s gone — thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, after the painting sparked criticism in Austria and as far away as the United States. Here’s a protest article in German (with 61 comments and an explicit video about the exhibition) and a comically bad machine translation into English.

The museum, a stone’s throw away from St. Stephan’s Cathedral, says it never intended to offend anyone but stands by its decision to celebrate Hrdlicka’s 80th birthday with a retrospective of his biblical-themed works.

Hrdlicka sculpture “Homage to Pasolini”, 7 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderWas the cardinal right to tell the museum to remove the most controversial piece? Should the exhibition have taken place in a museum linked to the Catholic Church anyway?

Looking from the outside in, it seems odd the museum was completely unaware of the reaction it would provoke. But Hrdlicka — an atheist who has spent his artistic life being inspired by the Bible (the most thrilling read ever, he says) — is a celebrated public figure in Austria, a country with a tradition of outlandish artists.

Take the now-feted Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele who were condemned for their “pornographic” art at the beginning of last century. Their paintings now sell for millions of euros and the city uses them in its tourism ads.

The museum says a lot of the complaints about the Hrdlicka exhibition came from abroad, where people had read about the exhibition online. Many Austrians who came to the display didn’t seem to have a problem with it, museum director Bernhard Böhler says. He points out that only a minority of the works provoked on-the-spot complaints.

Vienna Cathedral Museum director Bernhard Böhler, 7 April 2008//Heinz-Peter BaderAnd the cardinal’s office argues that just because the museum exhibited the works, it does not mean that it identifies with all of them. Böhler agrees: “We look for art on biblical themes, but we can’t always choose how the artist will interpret them.”

But by displaying the works, is the museum nevertheless endorsing them? What would have happened if the museum had decided to display similar works concerning the Prophet Mohammad? Is this a valid comparison to make?

It seems unlikely that the exhibition will be closed – it would be slight towards an artist who is as much a part of Vienna as its coffee houses and cobbled streets. Hrdlicka is described on the website of Austria’s chancellor (prime minister) as the country’s “most renowned contemporary sculptor.” His Memorial Against War and Fascism has been on display in the capital’s central Albertinaplatz since 1988.

Alfred Hrdlicka, 10 March 2008/Leonhard FoegerHrdlicka also has admirers outside of Austria. At a recent exhibition in Berlin, the leader of Germany’s Left Party, Oskar Lafontaine, compared him to the Spanish artist Francisco Goya. “Like the great Spaniard, the Viennese artist, with his unruliness and his passion, is an unforgiving observer of his time.”

But it seems not everyone is a fan and his works have obviously deeply offended some in the Christian community — something which both the diocese and museum acknowledge.

Hrdlicka, on the other hand, remains slightly bemused by it all. “I’ve got nothing against the Catholic Church,” he says. “But all this has nothing to do with me … I don’t really mind whether the painting is displayed or taken down.”

The exhibition is on display in Vienna’s Cathedral Museum until May 10.

Comments
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There is being ‘liberal’ and then there is being downright lurid. From the description of the painting in the media it sounds the picture was sexually explicit and no decency shown towards Christ. The artist has the right to his interpretation of the last supper – be it very different from the Holy Bible’s interpretation. I wonder where and why he got the idea that Christ and the Apostles would behave in such a manner. I wonder if it is a fantasy of the poor old man or has just sniffed too much oil paint over the years. Then there is the question as to why Bernhard Böhler would want such a picture hanging for all to see? Maybe a fantasy of his also? Each to their own but not at the perverse offensive of others. I am sure it’s not just the Catholics who would find the painting offensive to Christianity. I am a non-Catholic but a Christian and would find such an interpretation of the last supper demeaning of Christ and Christianity. (But I won’t be going out and burning the Austrian flag and Embassy). I wonder what the reactions of Alfred Hrdlicka, Oskar Lafontaine and Bernhard Böhler would be if they were depicted do that to each other in a painting for everyone to see. Then again, depending how ‘liberal’ they are, they may think it the best thing. But that is ok for them – they are not holy men. At least the Cardinal had the basic common decency to have it taken down.

Posted by Conscientious Observer | Report as abusive
 

I have grown tired of hearing that “fundamentalist Christians” being “the same as fundamentalist Moslems.” Let’s wait and see if angry mobs of Baptists and conservative Catholics attack Austrian embassies or put rewards on the artists head. Of course none of these things will likely happen, at the most there will be a peaceful protest. Remember this the next time commentators try to marginalize conservative Christians by comparing them to Islamic extremists.

Posted by tired evangelical | Report as abusive
 

I’m offended. It looks like some half-witted barely identifiable scribbles a 4-year-old would draw. Talk about a lot of hype for vague incompetently drawn art. A man that age lacking such a meager amount of artistic talent getting so much attention for a shameless grab at “emotionally-charged” hysteria is elevating lame art to Opera levels. This hype is akin to being shocked monkeys throw poop. Artists that utterly lack even the barest hint of talent always go for “shock value” because they couldn’t draw a recognizable object to save their own lives (much less pay bills with their worthless art).

Posted by George Johnson | Report as abusive
 

It is a work of art, not an official illustration IN the bible. Let’s not forget the bible itself is interpreted by people in their own ways, and no one church is 100% spot on in their interpretation. Why are christian fundamentalists so finicky about everything. learn to be more liberal and accepting of points of views that do not mirror your own, and you will live a happier life with that stick removed from your asses!

Posted by haha | Report as abusive
 

Mohammed as a cartoon bomb maker,the Last Supper as a gay orgy,if your faith is shaken that easily,you need to work on it.Those who laughed at the bomb cartoon are now highly offended that masturbation is portrayed at the last supper.So,now those who were offended by the bomb cartoon get a laugh as well.It is the state of the world that most people’s self esteem is dependent on lowering that of others.I love so called Christians claiming that there is nothing wrong with portraying mohammed as a bomb maker and then going ballistic when someone does the same to their icons.I can see muslims doing the exact same in this instance.Religion would be the funniest thing going if so many did not take it so seriously.

Posted by Dean bermea | Report as abusive
 

I am offended by those who try to draw parallels between fundamentalists Christians and fundamentalist Moslems. I don’t believe you’ll see Christians calling for the death of the bishop, the art director nor even the artists. I defend the right of the artist to show his work even if it is repulsive and sacrilegious, however, not at a Catholic museum.

If the artist wants to paint homoerotic imagery of the Last Supper, in a democracy he has the right. The museum director states, “We think Hrdlicka is entitled to represent people in this carnal, drastic way.” Yes, he does, but he is not entitled to show whatever art he wants in a Catholic museum. My issue is with the director at the museum. He works for the Church, and he should remember that. He states that “we can’t always choose how the artist will interpret them.” Why not? The Catholic Church is not the government; accordingly, the Church can decide to limit what it shows in its museums, what it prints in its publications, what it puts on its websites. People and organizations are allowed to censor themselves. Let us not confuse government censorship with a non-government organization controlling its own publications, museums, and messages.

In another article, the museum director compares the Mel Gibson’s movie and this art exhibit. Are you kidding me? It is not disputed by anyone that being tortured and crucified is violent. You may not like to see it, but it is historically accurate. It is also not disputed within the Catholic Church that Christ was tortured and died for our sins. On the other hand, it is clearly debatable that the Last Supper was a homosexual orgy, and it is absolutely not true for the Catholic Church. The museum director’s comparison is weak rationalization at best.

Another rationalization by the art director is that only a minority voiced complaints. First, he is comparing silence to not being offended. Having only a minority complain and making the leap in logic that only a minority were offended is huge and not intellectually honest. Second, who is he working for? Since when does the Catholic Church make decisions based on majority rule? I did not know we voted on the abortion nor whether using God’s name in vain was OK or not?

If the museum director worked for a non-Catholic museum, I would think that this art is offensive, but that is the cost for democracy. But since the museum director works for a Catholic affiliated museum, I am amazed by his absolute lack of judgment and offended by his weak rationalizations.

Posted by SBM | Report as abusive
 

I am deeply offended as a Catholic that this trash is being shown in a Catholic museum. I believe that it should be taken down immediately. If the artist wants to show it in his own gallery or some other secular gallery, then that is his right and those who want can go see it there. But, when it is shown in a Catholic museum, it gives an erroneous message that the Catholic church is sanctioning such an exhibit.

Whomever is the bishop of the diocese where the museum is should have rejected the idea and it should never have gotten this far. I am tired and disappointed in our hierarchy, who either look the other way, or are as troubled as others who have been stripped of their bishoprics.

Please, honorable Catholics, flood the Vatican with your requests to have this “exhibit” removed from any Catholic building. Thank you, BJ

 

It is a problem of the artist that he chooses to be blasphemous. But is outrageous that such works are exhibited at a Catholic Museum next to St. Stephens Cathedral. I damand that the person responsible for such abomination – Bernhard Boehler – be fired immediately by the bishop. What has happened to Austria! It is no accident that St. Poelten seminary had to be closed after a gross skandal if the Bishop employs such people to chose such works to be displayed without seeing a problem.

Posted by AS Sikora | Report as abusive
 

AS Sikora is right concerning Boehler. The museum director just doesn’t get it (see my listing of his rationalizations above)…I don’t think the bishop gets it either.

Of course our hierarchy is letting us down again. Perhaps they will do some of their famous shuffling of problem people by sending Boehler for some counseling and then put him in charge of another Catholic museum next to the Vatican where he decides to show 30 years of blasphemous “Hustler” pornographic religious cartoons because it is religious art that he cannot say no to. He is then sent for more counseling and they reassign him to a third Catholic museum where he…then a fourth…etc.

My analogy of ignoring the real problem and putting the person in a position to commit the same offense again and again is weak because what Boehler is doing is public, he is not preying on children, and we don’t have Church attorneys bullying and/or buying off parents who dared to speak up for the previous 30 years.

It is sad to say but I thanked God (no exaggeration)for plaintiff attorneys and juries who through their award of high damages hopefully brought an end to the scandalous activity. Of course moral right and wrong did not do it, public disclosure did not do it, it took huge jury awards to bring the hierarchy to its knees and forced it to take pedaphila seriously.

Posted by sbm | Report as abusive
 

I think many of these comments are completely hilarious. I see many people calling the artwork “trash” or “lame” because the subject of the piece does not completely align with their religious views. Religion is one of the things in the world we need to take less seriously. Why, you ask? I’ll give you a few examles. First, modern-day conservative Muslims. Sexism and racism at its most prodigal point. Though Muhammed original preached peace, they use their holy book as an excuse to attack people. Another group that does the same is a certain group I like to label “Conservative Christian Rednecks.” While the main body of the Conservative Christians remains intolerant yet non-violent, this particular group likes to get drunk and “do something about it.” Let’s try not to be like these groups, and learn to accept other people’s views. God is God, and no matter what vassal you believe (or do not believe) to have used to spread the message of LOVE and TOLERANCE to the world, you still need to respect others’ views.

 

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