Eggs Benedict, the Milwaukee Art Museum : “Je suis Charlie”

Milwaukee area artist Niki Johnson created a portrait of retired Pope Benedict out of colored condoms in response to a less than correct statement he made while in Africa concerning the use of condoms and the spread of AIDS. The portrait created something of a ruckus when it was displayed at the Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee back in 2013.

Since then it was purchased by local philanthropist and gay rights activist Joseph Pabst and donated to the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM). MAM intends to display the work in their newly renovated galleries this fall.

Needless to say this has garnered the requisite weeping and gnashing of teeth and docents at the museum resigning, benefactors revoking their support, members resigning their memberships and complaints from Archbishop Listecki…this is not unexpected and certainly within each individuals rights. For more details, check out this article from JSOnline.

The decision by the Milwaukee Art Museum to acquire and prominently display a controversial portrait of Pope Benedict XVI fashioned from 17,000 colored condoms has created outrage among Catholics and others who see it as profoundly disrespectful, even blasphemous.

Many suggest that if a piece were as offensive to other faith traditions or communities it would not be tolerated, much less embraced.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki blasted the decision as insulting and callous. The museum acknowledged it has fielded about 200 complaints. A handful of patrons dropped their memberships; one longtime docent tendered her resignation; and at least one donor vowed never to support the museum financially again.

Museum officials said an equal number of people have voiced support for the piece and that memberships and pledges in general are growing. They said they regret that the portrait, by Shorewood artist Niki Johnson, has elicited such enmity. But they insist it was not their intent — nor the intent of the artist — to offend Catholics or anyone else. And they said they continue to enjoy the support of people of all faiths, including Catholics.

“This was never intended to be derisive, mocking or disrespectful of the pope,” said museum board of trustees president Don Layden. “It was to have a conversation about AIDS and AIDS education. And my hope is when the piece appears in the museum that will be the focus of the discussion.”

I don’t need to say too much more other than requote this line: “Many suggest that if a piece were as offensive to other faith traditions or communities it would not be tolerated, much less embraced.”

And repeat part of my headline: “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie).


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2 thoughts on “Eggs Benedict, the Milwaukee Art Museum : “Je suis Charlie”

  1. Certainly goes one better than cartoons. Sort of makes you realize that killing beats complaints every time in terms of results.

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