Video: Chocolate Jesus stirs controversy

updated 3/30/2007 3:33:14 PM ET 2007-03-30T19:33:14

A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled Friday amid a choir of complaining Catholics that included Cardinal Edward Egan.

The "My Sweet Lord" display was shut down by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in midtown Manhattan, said Matt Semler, the gallery's creative director. Semler said he submitted his resignation after officials at the Roger Smith Hotel shut down the show.

The six-foot sculpture 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."

But word of the confectionary 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."

"It’s not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing — to choose Holy Week is astounding," he said.

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 artist Cosimo Cavallaro, who was described as disappointed by the decision to cancel the display.

"In this situation, the hotel couldn't continue to be supportive because of a fear for their own safety," Semler said.

The sculpture was to debut Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Roman Catholics mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. The final day of the exhibit was planned for Easter Sunday.

The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the Cavallaro creation does not include a loincloth.

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.

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