Thursday 3 January 2008

Not dying for their art

A gallery has offended the church by exhibiting a statue of Jesus with an erection.

The graphic figure is on display at Gateshead's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

The exhibit is a traditional form of Jesus which has been doctored by controversial Chinese artist Terence Koh.

Gone, Yet Still, features 74 plaster models ranging from Mickey Mouse to ET, with the 1ft high depiction of Christ with an erection a central figure in the artwork.

Outraged visitors and church leaders have criticised the artist and Baltic bosses for disrespecting the Christian faith.

Personally, I don't think it's worth kicking up a fuss about this kind of thing. "Artists" like Koh are essentially no different from small children who misbehave in the hope of getting attention. React to their provocation, and they'll only derive satisfaction, and a delicious sense of moral self-righteousness, from playing the martyr, from the belief that they have made a heroic stand for free speech against those wicked Christian fundamentalists. Ignore them, and there is a very slight chance that they'll grow up.

But one remark from John Monaghan, a visitor to the gallery, does make a good, albeit obvious, point:

If other religious characters were portrayed in this way, Mohammed for example, there would be riots.
Of course, there's very little chance that any art gallery would dare to feature any depiction of Mohammed whatsoever, and certainly not one like this. As the Turner Prize-winner Grayson Perry (whose works include the depiction of "a teddy bear being born from a penis as the Virgin Mary" - the mind boggles) said in November:
I’ve censored myself. The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.
And then last month in the Netherlands, a museum opted not to show a work of "art" portraying Mohammed and his son-in-law as homosexuals, for fear that "certain people in our society might perceive it as offensive". Of course, it's not actually the offence they worry about, it's the potential reaction of those who are offended. Christians respond mildly and proportionately, Muslims don't. As such, Christians can be attacked without fear, but one must act towards Muslims as though one were treading on eggshells.

But perhaps if Terence Koh (and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art), or the "artist" behind last year's "Christ Killa" (in which the audience at a Los Angeles art gallery were invited to play a video game involving shooting legions of "homicidal Jesus Christs"), or Andres Serrano (the man responsible for the notorious "Piss Christ"), want to be really brave and really controversial, they could always try depicting Mohammed in the same way that they have depicted Jesus. Maybe then they'll really get to die for their art.