A Crowbar in Loveland: The ugly side of art

October 11, 2010

Artfully

Man, oh, man. First of all, thank you, readers, for tolerating my hiatus. Suffice it to say, due to a few changes around the office, there were not enough hours in the day for my regular writing, so this had to take back burner. I missed it (and hopefully you did, too).

Second, despite the city’s idyllic name, there’s a mess to be addressed in Loveland, Colo. On Oct. 6, a truck driver drove from Montana to the Loveland Museum Gallery, where she approached a hanging lithographic print, smashed its protective glass with a crowbar, and ripped the print to pieces.

And she did it in the name of Christianity.

The print depicted Jesus in a lewd act. Its creator, Stanford prof Enrique Chagoya, intended it to be a commentary on the corruption of the Catholic Church, not a sex act involving Christ, he said in a New York Times story.

But that’s not what 56-year-old, crow-bar wielding Kathleen Folden and others who protested the surrealist piece saw. After Folden had destroyed the lithographic print, she told onlookers why she did it. “Because it desecrates my Lord,” she is reported to have said.

Of course, Folden’s action has stirred the timeless vat of controversy involving free speech, censorship, indecency in art, and the use of religious symbols. Those who opposed the artwork’s display, including a local deacon, called the piece pornography and “deeply offensive.” Those who supported it called it activism, and creative expression.

The print was part of a series the artist called “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals,” an obvious insult to Catholics, who, since the first century, have been accused of cannibalism for believing the Eucharist is Jesus’ actual body and blood.

According to the NYT, Chagoya has been getting hate mail for a week, and said he fears for the safety of the museum and those who associate with it.

“I think religion should be about peace and loving, especially Christianity,” it quoted him saying.

And so, it seems to me that Chagoya’s unspoken assumption is this: He can use his art to offensively depict Son of God, and because Christians profess peace, they’ll turn the other cheek.

It seems to me that Kathleen Folden had enough, and, with the vigor of a knight defending his king, went out to slay a dragon. She was wearing a T-shirt that read, “My Savior is Tougher Than Nails” when she went to get rid of the art, and she proved she was pretty tough, too.

I’m conflicted about the righteousness of Folden’s action, but it stirs within my mind an image of Jesus in the temple, overthrowing the moneychanger’s tables, chasing them out of the most sacred place, and making a generally raucous scene.

This incident, known as the Cleansing of the Temple, is recounted in all four Gospels. He was appalled at the profane act, and he did something about it. He didn’t approach the head moneychanger and ask for a dialogue. He didn’t start a petition with the pious Jews, or make a sign and stand outside in protest. He went in and got rid of the profanity.

And it seems that Folden did kinda the same thing.

What do you think? Did Folden defend the church’s honor, or did she violate free speech?

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About Maria Wiering

Maria Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit.

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