"This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever," said Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League. "It's not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing — to choose Holy Week is astounding."
The 6-foot sculpture by artist Cosimo Cavallaro 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 at the Lab Gallery inside midtown Manhattan's Roger Smith Hotel was planned for Easter Sunday.
"The fact that they chose Holy Week shows this is calculated, and the timing is deliberate," said Donohue, whose group represents 350,000 Catholics nationwide.
He called for an economic boycott of the hotel, which he described as "already morally bankrupt."
The gallery's creative director, Matt Semler, said the Lab and the hotel were overrun with angry telephone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Although he described Donohue's response as "a Catholic fatwa," Semler said the gallery was considering its options amid the criticism.
"We're obviously surprised by the overwhelming response and offense people have taken," said Semler, adding that the Holy Week timing was an unfortunate coincidence. "We are certainly in the process of trying to figure out what we're going to do next."
The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and it 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, who was raised in Canada and Italy, 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 aand festooning a with 312 pounds of processed ham.
The Christ sculpture will be on display April 2-7 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a final showing from midnight to 1 a.m. on Easter Sunday. Its location on the first floor ensures attention from the thousands of passers-by in the busy neighborhood just north of Grand Central Terminal.
Semler was particularly upset by the call for a boycott of the hotel, which he said was not involved in the selection of "My Sweet Lord."
It's not the first time that Donohue's group and the art world have been at odds. A painting of "The Holy Virgin Mary" that used a splash of elephant dung drew outrage in 1999.