Vienna museum reels from Last Supper uproar, blames outsiders

April 10, 2008

Vienna Catherdal Museum director Bernhard Böhler, 9 April 2008/Heinz-Peter BaderThe 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.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and his former professor Pope Benedict, 7 Sept 2007/Ho New“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?


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In response to Dr. Bernhard Böhler:

“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.”

It is important to remember that the Church’s documents and teachings of the past 2000 years are what is fundamental. It is also essential for the Church and all its people to have respect for the sacraments.

The misinterpretation of Böhler, is that he may respect the artist at the personal level and respect the art overall. But, placement was not warrented.

The Church is not necessarily against art itself… this stance has been essentially the same since the Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D.. “…honor of an image passes on to that which the image represents…”

I’m thinking that Bernhard Böhler needs to look into what the Church teaches. Catholic = Universal Catholic does not equal, Hrdlicka is a stunning artist from my country, so let us post this on our property and cut him a break because most of the other works are incredible…

For more… Check out my blog.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

The quotes from the museum director show unbelievable obtuseness. “In his statement yesterday, Cardinal Schönborn also stressed that Hrdlicka was a great Austrian artist.” And then to demean those who cry out against this filth and imply that they are sort of ignorant, beggars words. Museums are not required to offer venues for filth. No artist is great in any meaningful sense who propagates filth, claiming it to be art. What is the thought provokes by portraying the Last Supper as an occasion for a homosexual orgy? Can the ‘great artist’ answer that? can the ‘prince’ of the Church respond intelligently to that?

Posted by Raymond Cote | Report as abusive

Art is great, however when something is designed to cause uproar because it offends a large group of people on a religious and personal level, I can’t admire it as virtuous, especially if that is the intention.

It would be one thing to write a book, for example saying “Look I have evidence Jesus was a homosexual”. But again, without any convincing argument, the intentionally inflammatory nature could not be admired by me, and I would argue that the people that admire it for this reason really have no ground to stand on.

I respect freedom of expression, with those things in mind. Just as in my country we have free speech laws, however if you do something intentional to cause physical or emotional damage to someone, this is actually considered a crime (disorderly conduct in the least, and even up to 5th degree assault).

Posted by mawst | Report as abusive

I personally saw the artwork in question before it was taken down, and I believe there are many possible interpretations. The most obvious is that it may be a direct assault on homophobia within the church, ironic given that homosexuality was not only tolerated but celebrated by Jesus Christ. A second and more subtle interpretation may lie in Foucault’s assessment that religion is intrinsically used in the service of hierarchy, forming a desublimation blurring the traditional demarcations of sexual identity. In a sense, the subject is interpolated into a dialectic that includes sodomy as a paradox.

Posted by Bob Recon | Report as abusive

Andrea Tornielli, the Il Giornale journalist who criticised the exhibition, rejects the label “Christian fundamentalist” and suggests Böhler should go become a press agent for Hrdlicka! His blog post (in Italian) is at  /04/11/direttore-bohler-non-ci-sto/

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

For heaven’s sakes, the man is a Stalinist. How can he be respected?

Posted by John | Report as abusive

It seems very avante garde for modern artists to create blasphemous images of Jesus or His Mother. I seem to remember a picture of the Virgin Mary created by the artist smearing his own vari-colored feces around on a canvas. Among the intellegentsia this was well-received. Bravo! Well done! A work of true genius! So it’s no big thing to portray Jesus Christ as homosexual, right? Been done already. Many times. Bor-ing. (Insert massive yawn here) But I offer a simple challenge to Mr Hrdlicka. Take me up on it if you dare. Paint the equivalent image of the Prophet Mohammed (PBH). Go ahead. I double-dare – no, I triple-dare you. Go for the gold. Slander the Prophet. Come on. Do it. It’s cowardly to attack Christianity because you can do it with impunity. What’s the worst the Pope’s gonna do? Say a mass for your soul? Be a real artist. A real man. Go after Islam.

Posted by Leon A Davis | Report as abusive

Situations like this provide the perfect example for the Christian faithful to prove how adult and mature they are. To prove that they and their God are not threatened by such trivial matters. Instead they take the opportunity to scream and rant that their personal beliefs are too important to be made fun of, or commented on, by the rest of us.

Your opinion of the art is beside the point. The artist has the right to make such art, and the museum has the right to display it. Please stop telling the rest of us how to think, and please stop telling us what to do.

And please, please, please, stop pretending that Christians are a suppressed underdog. That idea is simply laughable.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

I am of the understanding that the museum in question is open to the public including children. I won’t dispute that Alfred Hrdlicka is an artist. But if the museum is open to children, would they (the children) be in a position to understand the full extent of what is depicted? Each to their own with homosexuality – “not that there’s anyting wrong with that” as quoted by Jerry Seinfeild…. This matter should be looked at with a mature, open and rational view. Where was it itially hung, who is likely to look at it? Were there signs regarding censorship, considering the nature of the art piece? I understand children see the statue of David in all his glory, however he is not being subjected to something children should not need to know or understand until they are mature enough to do so. I understand some ‘parents’ are of the opinion it’s alright for a six year old girl or boy to be subjected to pornographic and sexually explicit pictures and the potential follow-on consequences and questions the child is likely to ask and what they are going to think of such a sacred figure after seeing this. Don’t peodophiles allow and want children to see this sort of matter??? Most adults are mature enough to interpret the ‘art’ so they won’t forever ‘misinterpret’ Christianity and Christ. You have a young person not knowing how to interpret the ‘art’ and their ‘parent’ not saying anything or saying ‘the wrong thing’, that may cause problems in understanding what is Christianity in future. Does the ‘average, everyday’ person or Christian willingly participate in such a scene as depicted in this painting? I’m getting the feeling I’ve missed out on something in my Christian upbringing……………!!!!!! (Before anyone jumps to any conclusions about me – I am being facetious).

Posted by Conscientious Observer | Report as abusive

Are children really ready for the violence, rapes and genocide which run through the allegedly holy bible?

Posted by Kieran | Report as abusive

I have not seen the painting, but, it seems that there have been far too many “expressions” in art aimed at christianity and its central figures.

In Europe, and in most of the elite circles, it is fashionable to espouse other religions and their philosophies. I agree with the comment above by Leon A Davis. I would love to see the artistic appreciation of the vast majority of the world population if similar art about islam, hinduism, or even buddhism were exhibited. Yes be a “MAN” and move to IRAN, PAKISTAN, INDIA, SRI LANKA and exhibit such “ART”

Posted by Clement W | Report as abusive

The point is… get it off of Church property. The Church does not support such “art.” And any Cardinal that continues to allow such a mess should be reprimanded (however unlikely that may be).

Hrdlicka could sculpt a Mother Teresa out of feces and eat it out of a monstrance shaped bowl and call it “art” in a modern museum AND get it lauded by the intellegentsia, but…get it out of the Church.

It is my understanding that there is still an image of the flagellated Christ being fondled on display? Because of this, I am still deeply ashamed of the Cardinal by his indecision on the matter. He is not a true representation of Christ… only the Pope may depose Cardinal Schönborn (C. 2, X, de clerico non residente, III, 4) However, as the image that is with this artice alludes… Schönborn was a student of once Cardinal Ratzinger in in Regensburg, Germany… Expect nothing to come of this.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

I am not a suporter of the pope, I am not a Catholic. I am actually more like all of the PROTESTANTS because I PROTEST Catholicism, the EMPIRE that it used to be, and the EMPIRE that I still view it to be. Though I view the pope as nothing more than the current EMPEROR of that EMPIRE, I have to agree with him and side with him on the fact that Americans put their faith by the wayside, and only aknowledge it for Christmas and Easter. It’s even my opinion that most Christian sadly just view their faith as a “get out of hell free ticket.” The pope may agree with me, but is there anything we can do as a nation and society to correct this?

Posted by Dan Brown | Report as abusive

It’s April 17th, Happy Birthday Jesus

Posted by Dan Brown | Report as abusive

Is it just me, or does this pope guy look like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars? Anyway, the catholics believe they are the authority on religion, yet they have it so very wrong. Amazing how so many still follow that belief system. The muslims have overtaken them in numbers, but probably on equal levels as far as disinformation and violence are concerned. On the positive side, they have made an enormous amount of money in their businesses.

Posted by Jay | Report as abusive