Art and the Church: who's afraid of upsetting whom?

      The crypt in Gloucester Cathedral is too damp ever to have been used for the storage of bones. In places there are pools of water on the floor. But the "thousands of shapes emerging upwards" from it (using the coy terminology of the "Church Times" -- which nevertheless published an explicit photograph) are not stalagmites but a phalanx of erect penises in latex rubber, heads proudly raised heavenwards.

      This is Simon Ryder's work "The Words to Say It", currently on display in the crypt until the end of September 1999. It is refreshing to see that the cathedral authorities are both willing and able to mount such an exhibition: and that the cathedral guides (gentlewomen advanced in years) are able to present it to visitors without embarrassment.

Simon Ryder
"The Words to Say It" 1999 (view)

      "In the bowels of the earth beneath the present-day cathedral lies Gloucester's crypt, the oldest part of the building dating from around 1065. Later abandoned as a place of regular worship due to flooding, today water still sits around the bases of the pillars in the silent central chamber. The damp atmosphere of this fluid nascent environment acts as a counterpoint to the main body of the building above --with its ritual words whispered, spoken, broadcast or sung but always carefully chosen-- turning your gaze down and your thoughts back to beginnings. "

Simon Ryder
"The Words to Say It" 1999 (view)

      Visitors to the Cathedral wishing to see the crypt and "The Words to Say It" should ask one of the guides at the Information Desk at the back of the Cathedral, since the few steps down to the crypt are deemed unsafe for unaccompanied access. Other items of interest for the tourist include the following. --

Tomb of Edward II, (lover of Piers Gaveston), murdered 1327 by having a red-hot poker thrust up his anus

Painted Organ

Cloisters, with rainbow effect on a sunny afternoon

Great Breeders of Gloucester (1) -- The Machen Memorial (13 children)

Great Breeders of Gloucester (2) -- The Bower Memorial (16 children)


      London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, however, cannot find the words to explain why they are unable to exhibit Elisabeth Ohlson's internationally acclaimed "Ecce Homo". This is doubly disappointing since their previous reputation for being gay-friendly and promoting the avant garde was expected to be enhanced on both counts now that they are under the chairmanship of Ivan Massow.

      "Ecce Homo" was exhibited last summer in Sweden's most important cathedral, Uppsala, and was defended by Lutheran Archbishop Karl-Gustav Hammar, and indeed by all the Swedish bishops bar one.

      When the Pope subsequently cancelled an audience with the Archbishop, Hammar held a press conference, stating that "as a church leader, I'm not only an institution, I have a duty to push for development".

      It has since been displayed in various European countries; was scheduled for display in May this year at the European Parliament; and has also been to Australia.

Luke 1, 30-31

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

Luke 2, 7

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for him in the inn.

Luke 3, 21-22

Now when all the people were baptised, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptised, and praying, the heaven was opened,
And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Matthew 23, 13

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Luke 19, 37-40

And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;
Saying, Blessed
be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.
And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.
And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

Matthew 26, 26-28

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave
it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.


      Any exhibitor interested in mounting "Ecce Homo" should contact Ms. Ohlson's agent Ingemar Arnesson -- pingo.kult@telia.com.


ICA Leading Lights

Ivan Massow Chairman
Marc Boothe
Frances Coady
Ekow Eshun
Angela Hooper
Ian Kirk
Hamish McAlpine
Martin Manning
Stephen Rust
Peter Salmon
Manny Silverman
Ian Charles Stewart
Gerrard Tyrrell
Lady Warner
Philip Dodd
Vice Presidents
Sir Hugh Casson
Howard Hodgkin
Robert Loder
Artist Patrons
Laurie Anderson
David Bowie
David Byrne
Jane Campion
Jarvis Cocker
Terence Davies
Brian Eno
Bryan Ferry
Peter Gabriel
David Hockney
Joanna Lumley
Janet Street Porter
Neil Tennant
Pete Townshend
Rachel Whiteread


Decima Exhibition: Art or Blasphemy? -- April 1999
Terrence McNally's new play, Corpus Christi, defended -- June 1998
Was Jesus Gay? -- US Biblical scholar, Morton Smith -- February 1998

Simon Ryder -- Art Nucleus
ICA, London
Ecce Homo
Ecce Homo / Stokholm Pride 1998

Link to Church of England
Church Net UK
Link to Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association


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Author: John Hunt
©1999 OutRage! London
URL: http://www.RoseCottage.me.uk/OutRage-archives/churchart.htm
Last modified: 19-September-1999