Vienna museum reels from Last Supper uproar, blames outsiders
The mainstream Austrian press has now got hold of the debate over a controversial exhibition in Vienna’s Cathedral Museum and the director is wading right in. Austrian papers have not given the Alfred Hrdlicka exhibition too much attention until recently. The celebrated 80-year-old Austrian artist’s outspokenness and bold paintings are nothing new to country with a tradition for daring art.
Now the museum’s director Bernhard Böhler has told Die Presse newspaper he is amazed by the fierce criticism the museum has received for exhibiting a homoerotic version of the Last Supper, which had to be taken down on the request of Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The exhibition provoked some complaints from visitors but it was the uproar on religious blogs in German and in the United States that really hit both the museum and the cardinal hard.
Boehler put this “massive verbal hostility” down to the fact that most of the critics don’t know Hrdlicka’s art well enough. He said he was “astounded by the heatedness of the debate.”
“The protests mainly came from Christian fundamentalist circles in the United States and eventually spilled over into Germany,” he says. “So it came from people who neither had the knowledge of the seriousness of Alfred Hrdlicka’s work nor had seen the exhibition.”
The Italian newspaper Il Giornale said the disputed painting wasn’t taken down fast enough and criticises the exhibition. In his blog, their Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli comments that nudes in paintings were not scandalous in themselves — Michelangelo painted nudes in the Sistine Chapel — “but here we’re talking about something different, we’re talking about a homosexual orgy with the Apostles as the main characters!”
Böhler has emphasised the museum never meant to offend anyone and says it does not necessarily agree with all of Hrdlicka’s approach. But he has said artists have the right to provoke and that the museum is entitled to offer them a platform.
“In Austria there has been a long-standing dialogue between art and the church which was led by Otto Mauer,” Böhler says, referring to the 20th Century Austrian artist and priest.
In his statement yesterday, Cardinal Schönborn also stressed that Hrdlicka was a great Austrian artist. It sounds like they’re saying this issue looks different if you’re Viennese and that people there would understand it better than foreigners would. Do you think this should be taken into account in judging this exhibition?