An exhibit at a Colorado art gallery is stirring up outrage from critics who say it depicts Jesus Christ in a sexual act.
Enrique Chagoya's "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals," created in 2003, is a multipanel piece in which "cultural and religious icons are presented with humor and placed in contradictory, unexpected and sometimes controversial contexts," the artist's publisher, Shark's Ink, said on its website.
The lithograph, on display since Sept. 11 at the tax-funded Loveland Museum Gallery in Loveland, Colo., is part of an 82-print exhibit by 10 artists who have worked with Colorado printer Bud Shark. It includes several images of Jesus, including one in which he appears to be receiving oral sex from a man as the word "orgasm" appears beside Jesus’ head.
Dozens of protesters gathered at the museum over the weekend to object to Chagoya's work, including Loveland Councilman Daryle Klassen, who failed to get the issue on the council agenda but said he'll keep pressing to have what he has called "smut" and "pornography" taken down.
Critics said the piece is appallingly disrespectful and offensive.
"It is visual profanity," Linda King, an art gallery owner, told the Loveland Reporter-Herald. "It disgraces the God of all creation."
Several citizens even called the police regarding the exhibit, asking for an investigation into whether it violates a Colorado law that protects children from obscenity, the Reporter Herald reported. The city attorney determined it did not.
But the artist, a professor at Stanford University, said he was simply making a statement on problems he sees with religious institutions, including the sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church.
"My intention is to critique religious institutions, since they affect everybody's lives (even people outside the religious sects)," Chagoya told FoxNews.com.
"In my work mentioned above I address the role of the Catholic Church (among other religious groups) imposing its credo on Native American cultures all over the Americas. I also critique the Church's position against same-sex marriage while allowing pedophiles to exist within its ranks for decades and keeping it quiet."
Chagoya said he's surprised by the response, saying there were no objections when the piece, which also includes comic book characters, Mexican pornography, Mayan symbols and ethnic stereotypes, was shown last year at a museum in Denver.
"My work is about the corruption of the spiritual by the institutions behind it, not about the beliefs of anyone. I respect people's opinions and I hope they respect mine," Chagoya said. "...All I do is use my art to express my anxieties, with some sense of humor. Lets agree to disagree, and long live our First Amendment."
Edwina Echevarria, a Loveland painter who was part of a smaller group of counter-demonstrators outside the museum, said she agreed with Chagoya.
"We have to be a country where freedom of expression thrives," she told the Reporter-Herald.
Don Surber of the Daily Mail says he wondered if Chagoya and his supporters would feel the same way if someone depicted Muhammad in the same way.
"This has been done so many times before that it is a cliche. In the artworld, such work belongs next to the Velvet Elvis and the dogs playing poker," Surber wrote in his blog. "If this ‘artist’ had any courage, he’d show Muhammad instead of Jesus. That’s cutting edge. That’s breaking new ground. That’s dangerous. That’s truly being willing to sacrifice for the sake of art."
Susan Ison, director of cultural services at the museum, said the controversy has attracted people to the exhibit.
The museum had 647 visitors on Saturday, compared with an average of 75 and more than 281 on Sunday, compared to the average 30 to 40, the Reporter-Herald reported.
"We invite everyone to come in, regardless of opinion, to write on a comment slip," Ison told the Reporter Herald.
"The Legend of Bud Shark and His Indelible Ink" is scheduled to remain on display until Nov. 28. Protesters secured a permit to demonstrate through Friday.