I Don’t Care If It Rains or Freezes, Long as I Have My Chocolate Jesus
They’ve got chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs at Easter. So why not a chocolate Jesus? Trouble is, he’s a work of art, and he’s nekkid.
By Mary Beth Crain
When I saw that idiot Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (translation: the Joe McCarthy of the Catholic Church), on “Anderson Cooper 360,” ranting about artist Cosimo Cavallaro’s chocolate sculpture of Christ that was the star feature of midtown Manhattan’s Lab Gallery until a bevy of uptight Catholics shut it down, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I don’t care how many books he’s written; Donohue is so frighteningly ignorant that the only way he could pass an art quiz would be by eating it. I’m sure his idea of art is confined to the spiritual landscape kitsch of Thomas Kincaid, or those awful, treacly Warner Sallman portraits of a hunky, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, light-bathed Christ who bears an astonishing resemblance to John Corbett. The idea of art as a political statement is incomprehensible to a thick like him.
So, I wouldn’t give Donohue a second thought, except that he happens to be one of the most dangerous people in America. He is a notorious religious fascist parading as a defender of “religious and civil rights”—but only, mind you, when those rights happen to be those of ultra-conservative Catholics. The targets of his psycho-venom are women, gays, liberals, Jews…and artists. Particularly artists. That makes sense, because artists have traditionally been the most dangerous of all groups, the ones who challenge us to—God forbid—think for ourselves and—double God forbid—question authority in all its forms.
The Chocolate Jesus, or “Cocoa Christ,” or “485, 460 Calorie Messiah” brouhaha all began when the New York Times announced two days ago that “world renowned artist Cosimo Cavallaro” would be “unveiling his latest and most striking installation at the Lab Gallery (at the Roger Smith Hotel, 47th and Lexington avenue) in the early morning hours of April 1st,” just in time for Holy Week. Entitled “My Sweet Lord,” the work was a 6-foot tall, 200-pound milk chocolate sculpture of a nude Jesus in cruciform position, with a very prominent milk chocolate you-know-what hanging out for all the world to see.
The NYT then went on to quote the Lab’s creative director, Matt Semler, who gushed that he was “truly thrilled to be working with Cosimo again. The sign of any great artist is how their work affects the observer. His art always gets a reaction, but this is the most dramatic piece of his career. It is absolutely amazing."
Alas, everyone spoke too soon. Bill Donohue and his crusaders loaded the moral cannons, Cardinal Edward Egan got on the horn and, with the blessing of other anally outraged Catholics, strong-armed Roger Smith Hotel president James Knowles into shutting down the exhibit. With true CEO diplomacy, Knowles blamed the public outcry and not his own abysmal cowardice for the decision. Matt Semler resigned in protest. The irate Christian soldiers, he said, “haven’t seen the show, seen what we’re doing. They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions.”
Well! Last night Donohue and Cavallaro got ready to grumble, with Anderson Cooper playing ref. It was the bald, porcine, red-faced, spiky-toothed Guardian of Public Morals versus the grouchy artiste with the long, wild, graying hair and unkempt beard, and what a bout it was! Donohue was arrogant, insulting, and so smug you wished he’d die of an Ex Lax overdose. Cavallaro was the soul of intelligence and common sense, but, being Italian, he wasn’t exactly restrained by propriety either. When Donohue remarked that a great big chocolate swastika wouldn’t have thrilled the Jews, Cavallaro replied, “You are the Nazi!” Which of course he is. Donohue merely replied with a big, snaggle-toothed grin, “Oh, really? Well, we won! You lost!” To which Cavallaro responded, “You’re talking like a five-year old! A five-year old! I feel sorry for you!”
“All, right, gentlemen, you’ve made your points,” a rather stunned Cooper interrupted them.
The idea that Donohue actually thinks he’s “won” is as absurd as it is tragic. What, after all, is his victory but a sword in the heart of our most cherished freedom, the one upon which our democracy was built and upon which it now teeters so perilously? When freedom of speech, and freedom of artistic expression, is curtailed, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict where a country is headed.
“Theater, art, literature, cinema, press…must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political and cultural idea.” Those could be Bill Donohue’s words, but they were Adolph Hitler’s, in “Mein Kampf.” There are too many disturbing parallels between Donohue and his proud and ruthless “cleansing” of American culture and the “Entartete Kunst,” or “Degenerate Art” exhibition curated by Josef Goebbels in 1937 that condemned “any art that is modern, expressionist or non-objective…art that is done by Jews, homosexuals, or the mentally retarded…and works that go against Nazi ideas, such as feminist art, anti-militarist art, and internationalist or ‘Bolshevik’ art.” In short, when we let the Bill Donohues of the world dictate what we can and can’t say and do and think, we haven’t won—we’ve lost. Big time.
If only Donohue and all the rest of those self-righteous Catholics who protested “My Sweet Lord” could have understood where, exactly, the artist was coming from. Far from being an insult to Catholicism, “My Sweet Lord” is a reminder of how far Holy Week has strayed from holiness. What is supposed to be the most somber and reflective Holy Day of the year for Catholics has become the most lucrative holiday—next to Halloween—for the candy manufacturers. So, when you think about it, “My Sweet Jesus” is actually a call to reflect upon the real meaning of Easter. It ain’t chocolate bunnies, any more than it’s chocolate Jesuses.
By the way, judging it on its artistic merit alone, Cavallaro’s Chocolate Jesus is absolutely gorgeous, one of the most beautiful renditions of the human body I’ve ever seen. Check it out on CNN’s video coverage.
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Senior editor Mary Beth Crain’s last piece for SoMA was For the Birds.
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