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This afternoon, The Roger Smith Hotel decided to cancel the exhibition of My Sweet Lord, Cosimo Cavalla’s 6-foot long, anatomically-correct sculpture of a nude Jesus on the cross—made out of chocolate. Danielle Simone of Pitch Control PR, the firm handling the hotel’s announcement, told us, “They decided the response was too overwhelming.”
Here’s the announcement:
March 30, 2007
Your response to the exhibit at the Lab Gallery is crystal clear and has brought to our attention the unintended reaction of you and other conscientious friends of ours to the exhibition of Cosimo Cavallaro.
We have caused the cancellation of the exhibition and wish to affirm the dignity and responsibility of the Hotel in all its affairs.
The show was to go up this Monday, April 2. But because of a storm of angry reactions from the Catholic community, the hotel made the decision to pull the show before it ever went up. (The Lab Gallery is attached to the hotel lobby at 501 Lexington Avenue — and the hotel sponsored the gallery — but the two are separate entities.)
Matt Semler, the artistic director and founder of the Lab Gallery, learned that the hotel had decided to cancel the show very shortly before the public was informed. “The decision was made by the hotel, and my resignation is on the desk,” he told us.
“One of the biggest misconceptions was that the hotel had anything do with this show. They are not involved in decisions about what to exhibit, nor do I have any obligation to tell them,” Semler explained. “They’re not in this business.”
“I support the decision—on the one hand, it’s probably what they had to do, but I’m disappointed that no one will see this show.” Semler was not surprised that the show would be controversial. But he explained about the work, “This was not coming from a place of disrespect. It’s another consideration, another meditation on the holiday.” Semler thought the fact that Jesus appeared naked in the sculpture was what elicited such strong reactions from Catholics. “But from my point of view, it’s the natural representation of Jesus Christ.”
Semler said that he has received about 250 emails when he arrived at his office this morning, and an intern was printing each one out and separating them into piles, negative and positive. “The piles were even,” he said. “Which tells that we definitely stepped into the eye of the storm.”
Semler founded the Lab Gallery three and a half years ago. Without him, it will close unless a deal can be worked out with the hotel that would convince him to stay. “The ball’s in their court,” he said. “I stand by the work I do. I’m not going to continue to put my interests up for vote. I can’t let this happen again.”
Semler said he has shown many performance and conceptual art exhibits since starting the Lab Gallery—including a show called “Detainee,” which depicted a torture scene from Guantanamo prison—and the hotel has never before objected.
And what happens to the chocolate Jesus? Semler said, “If I can take it somewhere else, I will.”