Rocco Landesman is the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Boy, does he know how to spin the official line on offensive art. In a recent interview in Cincinnati, he was asked vaguely about controversy. "The best art taps into deep feelings, sometimes to comfort and sometimes to confront. Art can be very uncomfortable," Landesman said. "That can lead to strong reactions. For some of us, it draws us into the arts over our lifetimes and careers. For others, it creates strong negative feelings."
Landesman wasn't being asked specifically about negative feelings over the Loveland Museum Gallery in Loveland, Colo., a taxpayer-funded art space that recently featured a controversial painting with Jesus Christ receiving oral sex from a man. He's certainly not used to critical questions about just how this blasphemy-by-numbers seems like a tiresome rerun -- Jesus in urine, Jesus in chocolate, Jesus in (homo)sexual ecstasy.
You know -- he wasn't asked, but you just know -- that he never would defend as "the best art" the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad or the Dalai Lama receiving oral sex. He'd be offended if it were a secular figure, such as, oh, President Barack Obama. But this is Christ, whom every taxpayer-funded artist always wants to crucify. This is "the best art."
The artist in this case is a Stanford professor named Enrique Chagoya, and he called his art outrage "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals." Typically, Chagoya was raised Catholic and claims the work isn't hostile at all, that it's about "faith and belief," that Christ was "about love and about sharing." Blah, blah. For good measure, gallery officials denied the image is sexual, as if men usually put their faces in other men's laps for other reasons.
There's more religious imagery in the multi-panel piece, including what appears to be the head of the Virgin Mary on a scantily clad cocktail waitress and another picture placing the head of Jesus on an obese female body in a one-piece bathing suit, riding a bicycle. The piece also contains written vulgarities (in English and Spanish).
Some might yawn. Here we go again. But what makes this story different is that Kathleen Folden, bless her heart, entered the gallery, broke into the artwork with a crowbar and ripped it to pieces. She didn't really destroy the art, because it was one of several prints, but she did express a rebuttal of sorts to the constant artistic besmirching of Jesus. Someone offended back.