Milwaukee Museum Plans to Display Portrait of Pope Made from 17,000 Condoms

Susan Jones | June 29, 2015 | 10:42am EDT
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Pope Benedict XVI retired in 2013. (AP File Photo)

( — The Milwaukee Art Museum is getting complaints from the Milwaukee archbishop, members of the public, and even some of its donors over its plans to display a huge portrait of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

"This piece is made out of 17,000 nonlubricated condoms," artist Niki Johnson recently told WITI television in Milwaukee. "What I did was inter-stuffed them and folded them in order to create this tonal range."

The portrait, titled "Eggs Benedict," measures almost seven feet high and five feet wide, and it can be viewed from both the front and the back: "When you come to the back, you see the condoms themselves," Johnson noted.

Johnson told the WITI she decided to make the latex mosaic after Pope Benedict's visit to Africa in 2009. Benedict said condoms would not resolve the AIDS epidemic: "On the contrary, it increases the problem," he said at the time.

"And I was just dumbfounded," Johnson said. "I mean, I couldn't make any sense of that statement. And so I figured I needed to do something."

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki says the museum's decision to display the piece is insulting and callous, the Associated Press reported. Some patrons have dropped their membership, and at least one donor has ended financial support of the not-for-profit museum.

"This was never intended to be derisive, mocking or disrespectful of the pope," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted museum Board of Trustees President Don Layden as saying. "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."

The museum announced the acquisition of the piece earlier this month. But it won't go on display until this fall because the museum's permanent collection galleries are currently closed for renovation.

The $31-million renovation project is being done in partnership with Milwaukee County, which committed $10 million to repair and restore two of the museum's buildings.

Membership is the primary source of revenue for the museum.

(The Associated Press contributed some of the information used in this report.)


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