By Ellen Huet
A week of picketing outside a controversial art exhibit by a Stanford professor culminated when a woman broke into the museum and destroyed the art, which depicts a man who resembles Jesus Christ receiving oral sex.
Picketers crowded outside the Loveland Gallery in Loveland, Colo., on Oct. 1, when art professor Enrique Chagoya’s art exhibit, a 7.5-inch by 7-foot color lithograph print titled “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals,” opened.
On Oct. 6, 56-year-old Kathleen Folden of Kalispell, Mont., entered the exhibit and broke the Plexiglass case with a crowbar, pulling out the book and tearing it up, The Denver Post reported.
Protesters claim the art is offensive and should not be displayed because the museum uses taxpayers’ dollars. Museum officials said since the art was donated, no public funding was used for that exhibit, according to The Post.
Chagoya, however, sees his art not as defaming Jesus but expressing an opinion about the organized church. “I’m not trying to offend anyone’s beliefs,” he said. “This is a critique to institutions.”
Chagoya is shocked at the art’s public reception, since he said the book has been in various exhibits for more than a year without any similar reaction and, he says, “no one has complained until now.”
“It’s been very disconcerting,” he said of the work’s destruction. “I feel our First Amendment right is being attacked. The museum is even afraid of replacing the work [with another copy].”
Chagoya teaches print-making and other art technique classes at Stanford, and says he never speaks about his art in classes.
Although his art has faced outspoken criticism from many, he says he also has received support from unexpected places, such as a pastor in Loveland who commissioned a work for his church after the controversy broke out.
He said the dean and the chair of the art department have been supportive. They are planning to organize a forum on censorship in the future, “maybe when animosities calm down, but not right now,” he said.
According to Chagoya, the museum held a vigil for the destroyed art on Friday night. Thomas Seligman, director of Cantor Arts Center, called the act a “prime example” of intolerance.
“I think art often provokes emotions because it has something to say that is a little too truthful for us to take or is against someone’s ideology,” he said. “It’s another good example of art having power, but a gross example of intolerance and purposeful hostilities.”
He added that while art as provocation is part of a growing society, censorship of art does nothing to advance the cause.
“It’s amazing that a woman would go to these lengths to destroy this,” he said. “If she made her own art, that’d be great–it keeps the dialogue going. But in no way did she have the right to do what she did.”
Chagoya feels that a tense political environment may have also contributed to the reaction to the art.
“I think pre-election polarizing politics may be the cause,” he said. “Unfortunately, I feel victimized by this kind of extremism.”
And, as he pointed out, his art is not the first nor will it be the last to deal with controversial religious topics.
“My work is not even as bad as it could be,” he said. “I mean, ‘South Park’ gets away with depicting religious icons and the reaction is not the same.” And, he noted, the show “also takes place in Colorado.”