Vienna cardinal explains stand on erotic Last Supper painting
We recently wrote about an exhibition in Vienna’s Roman Catholic Cathedral which has caused quite a stir — it included a homoerotic version of Christ’s Last Supper by Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka. The picture was quickly taken down at the request of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna.
The cardinal has now made a statement about the exhibition regretting the work was ever shown but describing Hrdlicka as one of Austria’s most notable artists. He also says art inspired by biblical subjects is something to be welcomed, even if the artists themselves are atheists. The full statement, sent to Reuters in English, is copied below.
There’s been a lot of criticism of Cardinal Schönborn on religion blogs connected to this exhibition. What do you think of his statement?
“The Vienna Cathedral Museum has dedicated a special exhibition, for which the museum’s director, Dr Bernhard Böhler, is personally responsible, to the artist Alfred Hrdlicka on the occasion of his 80th birthday. 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”. He expresses this “compassion” in a most perturbing way. Hrdlicka`s best-known works in this respect are the “Danse macabre of Plötzensee” (Berlin) and his impressive Holocaust Memorial (Memorial Against War and Fascism) in front to the Albertina Gallery in Vienna. 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.
“Alfred Hrdlicka has dealt with biblical subjects all his life, especially with the suffering of Christ. In spite of the fact that he claims to be a communist and an atheist, he nevertheless has a burning interest in the Holy Bible, and has personally admitted that he has a great longing for faith.
“This exhibition does not mean that the museum identifies itself with all of Hrdlicka`s works. In some of them 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. 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.
“Nevertheless, I still hold the opinion that we must welcome the fact that artists who do not share our faith, or are still searching for belief, occupy themselves so intensively with biblical subjects.”