A Roman Catholic watchdog group is protesting a student art exhibition in which religious symbols including a crucifix and rosary are depicted in sexually explicit paintings.
“I have the sneaking suspicion that these paintings made the cut precisely because they were an assault on Catholic sensibilities,” Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, said in a statement Thursday.
The works on display at the private Cooper Union school include paintings, sculpture, graphic design and video installations chosen by the faculty. The exhibit began May 27 and ends June 10.
The target of the protest is a series of paintings by Felipe Baeza. One of them depicts a man with his pants down and a crucifix in his rectum. A Latin caption says, “The day I became a Catholic.” Another painting shows rosaries with male genitalia, and a third a man with a halo and erection.
Donahue said the public “should expect more from the art faculty at a distinguished institution of higher education.”
In a statement, Cooper Union responded that the art show ending the academic year is curated by faculty of the schools of architecture, engineering and art.
“Hundreds of student works are shown annually without censorship — a tradition at the school since its founding by Peter Cooper 150 years ago,” the school said.
The Catholic League, a New York-based group, has a record of protesting art it deems offensive.
In 1999, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani threatened to cut off city funding for the Brooklyn Museum if it did not remove a canvas depicting a black Madonna decorated with elephant dung and female genitalia. The Catholic mayor called it “insulting to Catholics,” and the league urged a boycott of the museum.
The League also got involved in the outcry over a 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix submerged in urine.
The Catholic League, founded in 1973, says it is the nation’s largest Roman Catholic civil rights organization.