NEW YORK – An angry choir of outraged Catholics, including Cardinal Edward Egan, forced the cancellation Friday of a planned Holy Week exhibition featuring a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ.
The hotel that houses the Lab Gallery announced the shutdown of the "My Sweet Lord" show after it was inundated with complaints regarding the six-foot confectionary Christ. In a letter that opened "Dear friends," Roger Smith Hotel president James Knowles cited the public outcry for his decision.
"Your response ... is crystal clear and has brought to our attention the unintended reaction of you and other conscientious friends of ours to the exhibition," Knowles wrote in the two-paragraph cancellation notice.
Matt Semler, creative director of the Lab Gallery, resigned in protest.
The chocolate creation of artist Cosimo Cavallaro was the victim of "a strong-arming from people who haven't seen the show, seen what we're doing," Semler said. "They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions."
The artwork, fashioned from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate, presented Christ with his arms outstretched as though nailed to an invisible cross. The Cavallaro creation, in contrast with typical religious portrayals of Christ, did not include a loincloth.
Word of the milk chocolate Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as "a sickening display." Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."
On Friday, Donohue said he was "delighted with the outcome" after hearing of the cancellation. But Donohue was still angry with Semler for describing his criticism of the sculpture as "a Catholic fatwa."
"He had no business saying my letter of protest was hate speech," Donohue said. "It just goes to show the guy is out of his mind."
The sculpture was to debut Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Christians mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. The final day of the exhibit was planned for Easter Sunday.
The hotel and the gallery were overrun Thursday with angry phone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Semler said the calls included death threats over the work of Cavallaro, who was described as disappointed by the cancellation.
"In this situation, the hotel couldn't continue to be supportive because of a fear for their own safety," said Semler. Cavallaro still hoped the sweet sculpture could go on display elsewhere, according to Semler.
Cavallaro is best known for his quirky work with food as art: Past efforts include repainting a Manhattan hotel room in melted mozzarella, spraying five tons of pepper jack cheese on a Wyoming home, and festooning a four-poster bed with 312 pounds of processed ham.