“To permit art to lie is to have contempt for it. The artist despises art when he aims at anything other than the realization of truth.” ~Ernest Hello
The Milwaukee Art Museum has always been a great stop for locals and visitors to the city. Impressive exhibits pass through its sleek halls at least once a year, and of course, Santiago Calatrava’s graceful Quadracci Pavilion is a modern masterpiece that enhances Milwaukee’s image across the nation as a hip city worth visiting. And you couldn’t ask for a better location, nestled as it is on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan. Over the course of the past year, starting with the “Heaven and Earth” exhibit last November, I’ve rediscovered this museum and paid it several visits. But how quickly things can change, as the museum is facing intense criticism for its acquisition of a new piece of “art” which is a crude portrait of Pope Benedict XVI made from colorful condoms. Seriously.
To those running the show at the museum, colorful condoms arranged as a portrait is what passes for art, I suppose. High school freshman in a required art class would probably agree. Now, I get it. Art is supposed to make us think. If you’re really sophisticated and carry a few snappy degrees from an Ivy League school, you can squeeze profound, life-changing meaning from a blotch of black ink on a canvas or maybe from an old urinal, or an empty glass on a ledge! So I am sure that the art museum elites are betting that they can convince the majority of the citizens of Milwaukee that, if they just stare long enough and think hard enough, they will be deeply inspired by this piece of flotsam. Nice try. Can we be honest and just call this what it is: a blatant slap in the face to the Catholic Church. Archbishop Jerome Listecki has come out strongly against the display. Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote.
An artist who claims his or her work is some great social commentary and a museum that accepts it, insults a religious leader of a church, whose charitable outreach through its missionaries and ministers has eased the pain of those who suffer throughout the world, must understand the rejection of this local action by the believers who themselves have been insulted.
It’s not helpful or wise to play the victim card, but being honest about a situation is necessary. As others have said, and it’s absolutely true, the Milwaukee Art Museum would never showcase a work of provocative “art” that so selectively singled out another religion, take your pick. Despite the strained, yet paper thin defense that has kicked in at the museum that the intention is not to offend but to “engage” and “challenge” we know the simple truth. There’s a reason why the Catholic Church and, more specifically, Pope Benedict XVI are singled out for ridicule and insult.
Is this exhibit offensive? Yes. Is it in very poor taste? Yes. But, sadly for the clumsy, sophomoric directors at the Milwaukee Art Museum, it is also childish and petty. It makes them look small and amateurish. Check out his writings on the subject. Pope-emeritus Benedict understands art and beauty better than any of his vulgar critics. Trust me, this “art” will end up in the garbage can sooner than you think, while the pope’s writings will be relied upon for centuries.