He wears Jesus' robes and a neon blue halo, looks like Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and is causing a stir at a Chicago art school. An undergraduate student's papier mache sculpture of Obama as a messianic figure — entitled "Blessing" — went on display Saturday at a downtown gallery run by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
By Monday, word of the piece had spread on political blogs, and the school had been flooded with calls.
David Cordero, 24, made the sculpture for his senior show after noticing all the attention Obama has received since he first hinted he may run for the presidency.
"All of this is a response to what I've been witnessing and hearing, this idea that Barack is sort of a potential savior that might come and absolve the country of all its sins," Cordero said. "In a lot of ways it's about caution in assigning all these inflated expectations on one individual, and expecting them to change something that many hands have shaped."
Obama's campaign worked Monday to distance the Illinois senator from the artwork.
"While we respect First Amendment rights and don't think the artist was trying to be offensive, Senator Obama, as a rule, isn't a fan of art that offends religious sensibilities," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Cordero said the school had fielded plenty of calls about his work, "some of them from angry people." He also said he had heard from a few potential buyers.
Bruce Jenkins, dean of the art school's undergraduate program, said response to the piece — part of a student exhibition — has been mostly positive. He said people should take a close look at the sculpture and the context it was created in before judging it.
"When you see it, when you spend time with it, you understand that it's not a provocative work at all," Jenkins said. "It opens a set of questions."
The Archdiocese of Chicago had not seen the work as of Monday afternoon and could not comment on it, said spokeswoman Dianne Dunagan.
The piece comes amid Catholic outrage in New York that led to an art gallery canceling an exhibit featuring a nude 6-foot-tall, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ.
Artist Cosimo Cavallaro said Saturday that he has received threats as a result of the sculpture, called "My Sweet Lord." Cavallaro said the controversy spurred "thousands" of e-mail messages from people offering help, donations and exhibition space.