My Sweet Lord, the chocolate Jesus by Cosimo Cavallaro
The overwhelming force of the religious right was demonstrated this week when an exhibition by an international artist to be held in mid-town Manhattan was cancelled after a campaign was launched against it on the ground that it was disrespectful towards Christianity.
My Sweet Lord, a 6ft representation of Jesus, was to have been unveiled over holy week in a gallery on Lexington Avenue but was withdrawn under fire from the Catholic League, an organisation of religious conservatives with 300,000 members. The group objected to the fact that the sculpture is made of more than 200lbs of chocolate and that the figure's genitalia are on display.
On Thursday the league sent emails to 500 other religious groups - including Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist with a combined reach of millions - calling on them to boycott the Roger Smith hotel in which the gallery, the Lab, is based. Within 24 hours the hotel was so inundated with calls and visiting protesters that it pulled the exhibit.
Sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro, 45, is known for his large-scale installations. In 1999 he covered a room of the Washington Jefferson hotel in New York with cheddar cheese. Two years later he sprayed 10,000lb of cheese over the entire interior of a house in Wyoming.
Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, said the work was a direct assault on Christians. "All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don't react the way extremist Muslims do when they're offended."
That the work of an internationally renowned artist can be pulled from a gallery in Manhattan - arguably the most liberal city in the US - is an indication of the power that organised religion wields within the country.
Matt Semmler, director of the Lab, told the Guardian before the cancellation was announced that neither he nor the artist had any intention to offend. "For me this is done a place of reverence and meditation - that's why I chose the piece. This is not intended to be disrespectful."
He added that over the centuries there had been thousands of depictions of Christ in many different styles.
WM question: Were Christians offended because Jesus was chocolate or because his ding-a-ling was showing?)