Calhoun’s Cannons,The Bay News, Morro Bay CA for April 11, 07
As a headline, it was hard to beat. There in the March 31 Tribune, from a New York Daily News story, “’My Sweet Lord’ chocolate Jesus outrages Catholics.”
Artist “Cosimo Cavallaro’s anatomically correct Jesus, titled ‘My Sweet Lord’ was made from almost 200 pounds of dark chocolate. The sculpture was to be displayed in a street-level window at the Roger Smith Hotel’s Lab Gallery starting Monday.”
A life-sized, naked, “anatomically correct” crucified chocolate Christ hanging in a hotel window at the start of Easter Week naturally enough engendered a protest. “It’s an all-out war on Christianity,” fumed Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “They wouldn’t’ show a depiction of Martin Luther king Jr. with genitals exposed on Martin Luther King Day, and they wouldn’t show Mohammed depicted this way during Ramadan. It’s always Christians, and the timing is deliberate.”
Well, what can you expect from an artist who’s “ . . . best known for slathering both a Hell’s Kitchen hotel room and model Twiggy with melted cheese . . . ?” A check of his website (http://www.cosimocavallaro.com) shows an artist well versed in creating a variety of startling artworks out of ham, candy and rubber, so Artist-as-Provocateur should be assumed.
And putting aside Mr. Donohue’s wish to play the minority victim card as a persecuted “Christian” in one of the most Christianized nations on earth, what was interesting to me was that he apparently didn’t object to the deeper weirdness of chocolate and crucifixion, but did object to the nudity. Alas, such a complaint is quaintly 500 hundred years too late. Michelangelo beat Mr. Cavallaro to the punch when he painted his Sistine Chapel’s monumental masterpiece, “The Last Judgment,” so loaded with shocking, anatomically correct nudity that Cardinal Carafa later hired a hack with a brush, now forever known as Il Braghettone (The breeches-painter), to come in and paint over the offending parts.
Thus the uneasy artistic battle ever since, with the body of Jesus being portrayed in myriad ways throughout history -- from the stiff iconic figures of Byzantium, to the nearly nude, ripped-muscle writhing of the Baroque period, to the strange marriage of Spanish Counter Reformation and Mesoamerican images, with their eerie focus on blood and gore, to the total disappearance of the figure altogether in the protestant shift away from the “Popish idolatry” of “graven images,” which often led to an empty cross in a bare chapel.
And through the ages every medium has been used in Jesus’ depiction: paint, wood, stone, clay, glass, textiles, straw, you name it. But with chocolate as the medium and crucifixion as the subject, we do end up with a particularly dissonant pairing of sinful edible delight and appalling holy suffering.
On the other hand, the pairing of food and Christian icons is nothing new either. If you go to Chocolate Fantasies at http://chocolatefantasies.com/religious.htm you can order 3 oz. chocolate heads of Jesus or Mary (in profile with halo) for $5.50 each, in a cello bag with ribbon, with the creepiness here being the same as for animal crackers: Where do you bite first?
And Lord knows, for years images of Jesus and Mary have been appearing on a wide variety of comestibles from toasted cheese sandwiches to tortillas, followed by an appearance of a photograph of the latest venerated miraculous food item on The Dave Letterman Show, accompanied by snorting laughter from the incredulous unfaithful.
Yet this pairing of Food & Faith does have a deep connection with the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant sects’ dogma concerning the miracle of transubstantiation, wherein communion “bread” and “wine” become the body and blood of Christ and are ingested by the faithful.
Eat this in remembrance of me, said Jesus at the Last Supper. And for centuries, believers did as instructed, although the idea of transubstantiation was a belief that many European missionaries and priests had a difficult time explaining to various indigenous people they were trying to convert, since many of their erstwhile converts thought that these pale-faced, black-robed strangers were simply terrifying cannibals who daily “ate their God.”
And now we have a new Hershey Heresy, a sadistic gourmand’s delight: A 200 pound Candy Crucifix -- Death by Chocolate. Yum-yum. Eeeuuuuuwwww.
Well, to the God of Small Things, I can only offer thanks that at least the artist didn’t choose to use Cheese Whiz.