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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

...when we have images of completely naked Jesus up and down the walls of one of our Cathedrals? A reader sent me a copy of the following article about a controversy going on in a church in New Zealand. The writer pointed out that the artist behind these pieces is not Catholic, and wanted to know how it was possible that a Catholic artist couldn't be found for this commission. I would say, that a Catholic artist was not solicited, because they wanted someone who would not be troubled by any devotional connection to the theological truth behind the Stations. Just guessing here.

Read it and weep.

16 February 2005


Bold naked images of Jesus in new relief sculptures installed in Christchurch's Catholic Cathedral have attracted angry protests from parishioners.

About 20 parishioners holding placards reading "ugly" and "pornographic"
protested outside the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on the weekend.

The sculptures, by Christchurch artist Llew Summers, mark the 14 stations of the cross and were dedicated to celebrate the cathedral's 100th anniversary. The stations of the cross depict the last hours of Jesus Christ's life.

Parishioner Monica Reedy said there was a groundswell of concerned parishioners who felt the art depicting a naked Jesus was "inappropriate". "I don't think the committee understands the passion we have as parishioners and as art critics in our own right. We should have been involved (in the decision) step by step." said Reedy. "(The works) look like Neanderthal man."

[NOTE FROM BARB: Ref: Sensuus Fideii]

Modern art was inappropriate in a neo-classical building, Reedy said. She described the new stations of the cross as a sad milestone in the church's history which damaged the essence of the church. "Can you imagine that they would be allowed to do that in any sophisticated and intact building in Europe?"

Summers, who is not a Catholic, welcomed the protests, saying they encouraged discussion around the artwork. "There is almost no naked Christs in the world. It's a truth that you are bringing to it," he said. There was a lot of celebration of the female body, but very little of the male body, he said. "I'm interested in the glorification of humanity, not the evilness of humanity."

[NOTE FROM BARB: Somehow, the Stations of the Cross seem to be a better natural vehicle for the evil of humanity than its glorification. There are other places where we all, you know, come off better...]

Cathedral Trust committee member Professor John Simpson said the committee had carefully considered the selection of Summers for the difficult task of exploring "the drama, the poetry and the absolute pathos" of the last few hours of Christ's life. It was too soon to condemn the value of the artwork, he said.

"There are bound to be some who are uplifted by the work and some who consider it unworthy. We believed that his understanding of the matter of the passion of Christ was such that we would end up with something unique," Simpson said.

Michelangelo's sculpture of David was attacked and damaged in its early
days but now it was considered a great work, he said.

[NOTE FROM BARB AGAIN: Um, but not because of its nudity. It was attacked because it made a political statement about the times. Idiot.]

He was upset that people were unhappy with the stations of the cross and would be happy to speak to them about his own understanding of the sculptures.

Christchurch poet Bernadette Hall said the artwork was historically accurate because crucifixion was traditionally reserved for slaves who were stripped to humiliate them.

[NOTE FROM BARB: Um...and since when is a poet an authority on ancient Roman execution techniques? Just checkin'... See, I'm going to go with the Gospel account here, which mentions the stripping of Christ on Calvary. The, um, eye-witnesses seem pretty clear on that.]

"They really bring out the humanity of Jesus Christ. For me, personally, it
is quite a relief to see the human figure of Christ. It was very brave and
extraordinarily honest."

[WARNING FROM BARB! WARNING! Use of the word "brave" to describe art always means it's yucky! Warning!...]

Reedy understood the intention of the artist was to emphasise Christ's naked vulnerability but even so, she said, it was not necessary. The committee did not consult widely enough within the diocese, she said. "I wonder who they have their mandate from."

Cathedral administrator Monsignor Barry Jones said the protesters were a
minority in the parish. "They (the sculptures) are just so unusual. When I first saw them I did not know what to make of them."

[NOTE FROM BARB: That's because what's left of your shame reflex was trying to make you revolted, Monsignor. But you keep on fighting that...]

The more I see them the more they grow on me. I think we need to spend time with them," he said.

This is all so screwed up. The purpose of the Stations of the Cross are to lead the faithful into a climate of prayer. Having Jesus' penis exposed does nothing to lead people into prayer. (How much do you want to bet the artist is gay?)

Art has a historical context. Uncivilized men tromping around naked would probably not be put off by the sight of one more penis. We, however, are. And I'm going to go with clothing be a generally good part of civilization. This means that only Neanderthals will possibly be able to achieve a prayerful state staring at these images. The rest of us will be alternately distracted, shamed, disgusted or turned on.