March 30, 2007 / 4:07 PM / 11 years ago

NY gallery cancels naked chocolate Jesus exhibit

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Manhattan art gallery canceled its Easter-season exhibit of a life-size chocolate sculpture of a naked Jesus on Friday after an outcry by Roman Catholics.

The gallery’s artistic director tendered his resignation to protest the cancellation.

The sculpture “My Sweet Lord” by Cosimo Cavallaro was to be exhibited for two hours each day next week in a street-level window of the Roger Smith Lab Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.

The display had been scheduled to open on Monday, days ahead of Good Friday when Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus and Easter Sunday when they celebrate his resurrection.

But protests including a call to boycott the affiliated Roger Smith Hotel forced the gallery to scrap the showing.

“We have caused the cancellation of the exhibition and wish to affirm the dignity and responsibility of the hotel in all its affairs,” James Knowles, president of the Roger Smith Hotel, said in a statement.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights had called for a boycott of the hotel and dropped the idea once “We got what we wanted,” a spokeswoman said.

“We’re delighted with the outcome. We’re glad that they came to their senses,” said Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the league, which describes itself as the largest U.S. Catholic civil-rights group.

Before the cancellation, she had called it “an assault on Christians” adding: “They would never dare do something similar with a chocolate statue of the prophet Mohammad naked with his genitals exposed during Ramadan.”

‘SICKENING DISPLAY’

The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, had called the sculpture “scandalous” and a “sickening display.”

Matthew Semler, artistic director of the gallery, said he sent the gallery his letter of resignation to protest the cancellation and that “the ball’s in their court” as to whether he might be convinced to stay.

He does not consider the piece irreverent and said he would look for another venue to display it.

“I saw it as meditation on all those issues: the fact that it’s chocolate, the fact that it’s nude, that the chocolate is black,” Semler said.

A photo of the piece on the artist's Web site (www.cosimocavallaro.com/) shows the work suspended in air, depicting Jesus as if on the cross.

New York is familiar with clashes between art and religion.

In 1999, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to withdraw a grant from the Brooklyn Museum of Art for a painting depicting the Virgin Mary as a black woman splattered with elephant dung adorned with cut-outs from pornographic magazines.

Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a different approach.

“If you want to give the guy some publicity, talk more about it, make a big fuss,” Bloomberg told WABC radio. “If you want to really hurt him, don’t pay attention.”

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