Milwaukee Archbishop Blasts Museum for Acquiring Pope Benedict Condom Portrait
Controversial portrait sparks outrage from Catholic leaders.
Many Catholics, including Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, are outraged by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s acquisition by gift of artist Niki Johnson’s portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI fashioned out of 17,000 brightly colored condoms.
Johnson has said she created the work, titled Eggs Benedict, in response to comments made by Pope Benedict in 2009 regarding Africa, that “condoms were not the answer to the continent’s fight against HIV and AIDS and would make the problem worse and aggravate the problems of Aids.” Johnson intends for the work to be a catalyst for conversation about the larger issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
Brewing heir and philanthropist Joseph Pabst, who purchased the work for about $25,000, donated it to the museum.
Annysa Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the museum has so far fielded roughly 200 complaints, some patrons have dropped their memberships, and one docent resigned. Some critics have suggested that if the work in question was as offensive to other faiths, it would not be tolerated.
In a post on his blog, Listecki stated: “Would they accept art—pick your favorite religious or historical figures—featuring them in various pornographic poses (which has happened in some international publications)? What about art featuring national or international popular social reconstructionists in a manner that would depict the opposite of what they represented, such as Gandhi sporting an Uzi, Lincoln in Ku Klux Klan garb or Hitler with a yarmulke reading the Torah, all in the name of art and beauty? Whose art and whose beauty? I would offer that even if the art museum considered accepting any of the above examples, there would be an extensive public discussion that would take place before any decision would be made.”
The work is not currently on view as the museum’s collection galleries are currently undergoing renovation.
“We intend to present the work along with didactic material and opportunities for engagement and public comment as part of the collection presentation in November,” museum spokesperson Vicki Scharfberg said in an email to artnet News. “We are also considering an interfaith panel discussion addressing the issues imbedded in the work. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work and the role art plays in society.”
“We have always had and continue to see strong support for the Milwaukee Art Museum from people of all faiths—including Catholics,” said museum director Dan Keegan in a statement noting that over the past 10 days, the museum has sold a record number of memberships and has had over 30,000 visitors. “We have heard from about a dozen members who have expressed concern about the piece. While we understand and respect that perspective, we have heard from far more that they are interested in seeing the piece when it is on display this fall and concerned about the dangers of censorship.”
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