Vienna museum defends controversial "Last Supper" - but removes it

A sketch of Alfred Hrdlicka's painting, 'The Last Supper'

A sketch depicting the Last Supper of Christ as a homo-erotic orgy has been removed from Vienna's Cathedral Museum. It was part of an exhibition exploring religion in the work of one of Austria's greatest living artists - Alfred Hrdlicka. Protests and threats from outraged believers led to the work's removal. To find out what all the fuss was about Kerry Skyring went to the Cathedral Museum and spoke to its director Bernhard Böhler. He said me the Vienna Catholic diocese has long had an interest in art.

„The Museum intention is to continue with this tradition which is the dialogue between Church and art. That’s why we chose Alfred Hrdlicka because he, more than most other contemporary artists, concentrates on religious themes, which is hardly known. He especially concentrates on the human being who suffers, who is maltreated, and in particular – on Christ”.

The contradiction here though is that he is a communist and an atheist..

“It is not an obstacle for the Cathedral Museum to exhibit an artist who is not deeply pious – to exhibit an artist who describes himself as an atheist. The Church never ordered works of art from famous artists and chose those artists because they were pious or not. The most important thing was the quality of the art – this was the most important thing. Remember Michelangelo who painted the frescos in the Cistine chapel? He probably was not a pious man but the Pope chose him for this most important work”.

When it came to taking the art work down – his depiction of the last supper – what was your reaction?

“I had a good and serious discussion with the Vienna cardinal and in the end I executed his decision to have the piece removed from the exhibition. It was never the museums intention to hurt the religious feelings of strong believers, which apparently had happened. But, “The Last Supper restored by Pierre Paolo Pasolini” that’s the full title of the work of art which is mostly debated – is the only picture by Hrdlicka dealing with The Last Supper. That is why we thought it is a good opportunity to show it in an exhibition dealing with Hrdlicka’s religious works”.