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Shocking: Sculpture of Jesus Christ in the electric chair makes waves in France

April 17, 2009 |  6:15 pm

Pieta  

If there's one thing most artists know, it's that creating a controversy can be great for your career.

Though Culture Monster doesn't necessarily condone this line of self-promotion, we cannot deny that few things are better at getting a conversation started than a provocative piece of art — especially if it involves the use (or abuse) of a religious symbol.

The latest case in point: This week, a cathedral in the French town of Gap displayed a sculpture that depicts Jesus Christ sitting in an electric chair.

Good Lord! (Or mon Dieu, in this particular case.)

The sculpture, by London artist Paul Fryer, is titled "Pieta," though anyone expecting a resemblance to Michelangelo's masterpiece of the same name (or any other pieta, for that matter) is definitely in for a surprise.

Made of wax, wood and human hair, the sculpture portrays Jesus in a quasi-crucifix pose except that instead of on the cross, he is slumped unconscious in a modern-day electric chair.

We at Culture Monster aren't easily shocked (pardon the pun). But what did surprise us about this story was that Fryer's sculpture wasn't shown at a hip downtown gallery but in a cathedral of all places — and with the blessing of the local bishop!

In an article in Le Monde, the Monsignor Jean-Michel di Falco explained that he wanted "to make us aware once more that someone being nailed to a cross is a scandal. Usually, we no longer feel any real emotions in the face of something truly scandalous, the crucifixion."

He added that he was overjoyed to see "a large number of people who normally don't step foot in a church line up at the cathedral."

So we revise our earlier statement: Artists and the Catholic Church know a good controversy when they see one. More power to them.

— David Ng

Photo: the sculpture "Pieta" by Paul Fryer recently on display at the Cathedrale de Gap in France. Credit: AFP / Jean-Pierre Clatot.

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