I love visiting with my friend Dan, a professional artist and colleague in the Art Department at ACU. Dan and I have been collaborating on research regarding the psychology of Christian aesthetic judgments. I've written about some of this work before. Our current project involves examining how death anxiety affects judgments of crucifixion art.
Dan's been pulling stimuli--various artistic depictions of the crucifixion--for me to use in the study. Today he showed me the fruits of his labor. After looking over the pictures he had found for the project he showed me some other interesting depictions of the crucifixion. (Dan and I have a taste for the provocative and shocking.) I was particularly struck by the "Chocolate Jesus."
"Chocolate Jesus" is actually entitled Sweet Jesus. Sweet Jesus is a 2005 sculpture by Cosimo Cavallaro. The sculpture is a six foot tall, nude and anatomically correct Jesus. Made entirely from chocolate. In 2007 Sweet Jesus was a part of an Easter Week exhibit entitled My Sweet Lord. Beyond the Chocolate Jesus the exhibit also showed Cavallaro's "Sweet Saints", little chocolate saint sculptures. The My Sweet Lord exhibit in New York was greeted with a cry of outrage, mainly from Catholics. Here's a bit from the Boston Globe account of the show's cancellation:
A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled yesterday amid a slew of complaints including those of Cardinal Edward Egan.You can surf to Cavallaro's Chocolate Jesus page on his website. His voiceover discusses a bit of the controversy which seemed to center mainly upon the nudity.
The "My Sweet Lord" exhibit was closed by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in midtown Manhattan, said Matt Semler, the gallery's creative director.
Semler said he submitted his resignation after officials at the Roger Smith Hotel shut down the show.
The 6-foot-tall sculpture was the victim of "a strong-arming from people who haven't seen the show, seen what we're doing," Semler said. "They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions."
But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as "a sickening display." Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."
But the thing that strikes me about the work isn't the nudity. It's the medium. The chocolate and its Easter associations. What does the use of chocolate signify?
I have two thoughts about this.
First, is the use of chocolate a way to comment on the cheapening and commercialization of Easter? We all know Christmas has been captured by the retailers. Easter as well. All the chocolate bunnies and eggs and Easter baskets. Might a chocolate Jesus be a way to comment on how the cross has been transformed into candy? And might there be something scandalous about that? To me, the artwork speaks about that: The transformation of Easter into chocolate we buy at Walmart. Is that what Easter has become? And shouldn't I be shocked when I confront that fact in the artwork?
Second, there is something shocking about an edible Jesus. And yet, that is exactly what Jesus said during the Last Supper: I'm edible. You will eat my body. In short, the chocolate Jesus recovers the scandal of the Eucharist.
Dan also finds significance in the title "sweet," the biblical notion of that the Word of God is sweet to taste.
Love it or hate it, Dan and I agreed: Chocolate Jesus makes you think.