Idol Chatter

All through the elephant-dung Virgin Mary dust-up and the “Piss Christ” controversy, one might have drawn the conclusion that Catholic League president Bill Donohue just didn’t get modern art. Who would want to tackle the task of explaining to Donohue how Western art at the turn of the 2000s had come to “appropriate” icons, materials, and techniques from other media and other cultures? The whole point of Chris Ofili’s portrait of the Blessed Virgin was to expose our own cultural bias against, well, pachyderm poop. Huh, Bill? Or imagine Donohue’s expression as you tried to play up the positive theme of incarnation in a photograph of a crucifix dunken in urine. Instead, artists seemed to create religious art just to see the watchdog of right-wing religious rights charge to tend of his tether, barking and growling.

But years of examining modern art for anti-Catholic bias seems to have deposited in Donohue’s conscious an appreciation for contemporary art. When Kate Kretz put her painting “Blessed Art Thou”–which depicts Angelina Jolie as the Mother of Christ–on the market recently, Donohue was not only restrained in his criticism, he offered an reasonable explanation of what’s at stake in postmodern art. While admonishing Kretz for “misappropriat[ing] the imagery of Our Blessed Mother,” Donohue admitted that she had “correctly seized upon the most important and revered woman ever to live as the focal point of her statement.”

What that statement was Donohue doesn’t say, but he seems to cotton to the idea that (mis)appropriating the Virgin is a way to talk about how we revere women. For the record, Kretz says the Jolie-Mary image was a comment on Jolie’s status as the mother of a highly anticipated child and a charitable presence. On her blog, Kretz recognized that “the Catholics officially say I’m not evil.” Or maybe Donohue just can’t resist Angelina Jolie.

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