The chocolate sculpture of Jesus which had aroused the ire of so many will not now be displayed in the Lab Gallery at New York’s Roger Smith Hotel. The Catholic League’s blustery head honcho, Bill Donohue, has apparently succeeded in blowing it away — although when Matt Semler (the gallery’s creative director) referred to Donohue’s statements as a “Catholic fatwa” he was only succeeding in highlighting the difference between Donohue’s verbal objections and the kind of actual fatwas that would be issued in the Muslim world were it Mohammed who was being represented by an anatomically correct confection.
Semler’s contention that it was only a coincidence that the display was to take place during Christians’ Holy Week is also laughable, especially considering the fact that the final exhibition was to be between midnight and 1 a.m. on Easter Sunday — i.e., the very first hour of the day on which Christians believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and defeated death for everyone.
All that said, I’m not sure that having the exhibit would have been such a bad thing. Now, I have no personal understanding of the artist’s intentions. It would seem naïve to think that Cosimo Cavallaro was seeking anything other than to shock and generate the kind of notoriety that he has in fact generated. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to view the idea of presenting a chocolate Jesus during the Easter season as a commentary on the lamentable way in which bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs have drowned out the whole point of the holiday. Just as Santa Claus and commercialism fight to overwhelm the story of Jesus’ birth at Christmas-time, here we have another secular myth competing in parallel with what Christians consider the crucial truth of Christ’s sacrifice and triumph for the sake of mankind. Cavallaro’s rendition of the crucified Lord in milk chocolate pales beside the perpetual effort of the culture-at-large to substitute candy and consumerism for the Christian story of salvation. It’s not that anyone should be obligated to pay attention to the Christian story if they don’t want to — but that is the story of Easter, after all. Having this fluffy substitute just confuses and misleads Christian kids and gives anyone who might pause to consider what the Christian holiday is actually about a pretty good reason to just sneer and disregard it.
Is this what Cavallaro’s art work was saying? Instead of trying himself to defile what should be sacred to Christians, was he simply trying to make us think about the degree to which it is already mocked by chocolate eggs, big-eared bunnies and fancy bonnets?
I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder. I’m shedding no tears for the artist or for the hotel in question, but I know that the absence of this particular exhibit does little to abate the underlying and relentless hostility of so many areas of our culture towards basic Christian beliefs. I’m not issuing any fatwas against the New York Times or NBC or the BBC or James Cameron or Dan Brown or Cadbury’s or anyone else. I’m just sayin’.
Addendum: In addition to the above-mentioned work in chocolate, the artist Cavallaro has previously created substantial exhibits in cheese — as when he covered a house in Wyoming in 10,000 pounds of cheese.
This produces an irresistable temptation to include a Dylanological reference. The following is a pretty hilarious passage from Bob Dylan’s first book, “Tarantula.” (Pardon the French at the beginning of the extract — I cannot of-course censor Mr. Dylan.)
look you asshole — tho i might be nothing but a butter sculptor, i refuse to go on working with the idea of your praising as my reward like what are your credentials anyway? excpt for talking about all us butter sculptors, what else do you do? do you know what it feels like to make some butter sculpture? do you know what it feels like to actually ooze that butter around & create something of fantastic worth? you said that my last year’s work “The King’s Odor” was great & then you say i haven’t done anything as great since — just who the hell are you talking to anyway? you must have something to do in your real life — i understand that you praised the piece you saw yesterday entitled “The Monkey Taster” about which you said meant “a nice work of butter carved into the shape of a young man who likes only african women” you are an idiot — it doesn’t mean that at all … i hereby want nothing to do with your hangups — i really dont care what you think of my work as i now know you dont understand it anyway … i must go now — i have this new hunk of margarine waiting in the bathtub — yes i said MARGARINE & next week i just might decide to use cream cheese — & i really dont care what you think of my experimenting — you take yourself too seriously-you’re going to get an ulcer & go into the hospital — they’ll put you in a ward where you cant have any visitors — you’ll go right off your nut — i really dont care anymore i am so bored with your rules & regulations that i might not even talk to you again — just remember tho, when you evaluate a piece of butter, you are talking about yourself, so you’d just better sign your name … see you, if you’re lucky, at mrs. keeler’s cake festival
p.s. you’re my friend & i’m trying to help you