Subsidized Painting by the Numbers

L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham | May 27, 2016 | 9:08am EDT
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Virginia Beach (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

Pardon us if you've heard this routine one too many times. Barbara Hollingsworth of CNS News reported that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is currently using government money to exhibit a painting that, yet again, projects anti-Catholic bigotry. They cannot stop hating Christianity (and Christians), and the federal government can't stop funding that hatred.

Let's paint this controversy by the numbers.

1. The angry artwork. The disgusting work of "art" by Los Angeles artist Mark Ryden, titled "Rosie's Tea Party," features a young white girl in a white Holy Communion dress wearing a crucifix around her neck. She's slicing a ham with "Corpus Christi," the Latin term for "Body of Christ," written on it. Some ham slices are on the floor, where there are white rats. A rabbit is pouring blood from a teapot into a teacup with the Latin words "Sanguis Christi" ("Blood of Christ") written on the saucer.

While the vulgarity meter registers (slightly) lower than "Piss Christ," the viciousness of purpose is worse. The Catholic Mass is centered on the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Mocking this sacrament is apparently the lowest-hanging fruit in the art world. In a series of paintings, Ryden uses Jesus as a plaything, like a Barbie doll.

2. The disingenuous deflections. When asked about the controversy, as leaders in the community were offended, MOCA Executive Director Debi Gray declared: "art is intended to be controversial. To some degree it's intended to spark dialogue, and I am delighted it has fulfilled our mission."

In a 2006 interview, Ryden defended his painting by saying: "I am really not poking fun at religion. I am just looking at it in different ways. Someone ought to poke fun at those Christians, though. They are the ones responsible for putting that evil clown" — President George W. Bush — "in the White House."

Ryden's interviewer displayed the same contempt for "contextually challenged" conservatives. His question centered on the artist being "harassed by orthodox religious stalwarts who lack a sense of humor."

We wonder: If a federally-funded exhibit featured a painting depicting someone putting a red-hot poker in the left eye socket of Ryden's late mother, would that be OK? If not, is it because Ryden lacks a sense of humor?

This museum is supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city government, as well as state and federal subsidies. Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission Chairman Brian Kirwin pointed out that the museum's "celebration of religious ridicule" appears to be aimed only at Christians. "To my recollection, there has not been any work spotlighted at the museum mocking Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism," he said.

3. Today's real sacred images. Catholic League President Bill Donohue made the obvious point for Catholics: "Why not substitute a young Muslim girl in a hijab, wearing a machete around her neck, cutting a piece of ham with the words, 'Allahu Akbar' inscribed on it."

Try that, and suddenly you have the attempted terrorist act in Garland, Texas, where all the blame landed on the insensitive "Islamophobes" running a "draw Muhammad" cartoon contest. Muslims forbid graven images of their prophet, and the Christ-mockers in the art world — and their government patrons — bow to those wishes.

Orthodoxy prevails. Provocateurs are condemned. Humor is banned. Hypocrisy thrives within this community of cowards.

Let's take that idea one step further. If art museums were dedicated to a mission of universal "controversy" and "dialogue," why wouldn't the government subsidize a work of art that, for example, takes the Time Magazine cover with Laverne Cox and surrounds the transgender actress with elephant dung, as in Chris Ofili's ugly collage "The Holy Virgin Mary"? Or, to really cross a line — we hold our breaths, anticipating the return volley — maybe just surround "her" with textual multiples of the pronouns "he" and "him"?

The left is not consistently impious. This gang has all its own pieties, its own perverted sense of what is sacred and impervious to mockery. The government somehow never, ever subsidizes any artist who crosses the left's lines.

L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog

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