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Arts Commissioners Threaten to Defund Virginia Museum Over “Anti-Christian” Art

Members of the Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission have threatened to cut future funding for Virginia’s Museum of Contemporary Art for including two works in the institution’s current exhibition that they believe are sacrilegious, Claire Voon of Hyperallergic reports. The museum has also received numerous calls and e-mails urging it to take the paintings down.

Titled “Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose,” the exhibition is a retrospective of San Francisco’s contemporary art magazine Hi-Fructose. It is also the museum’s largest show to date. Intended to celebrate the artists whose works have frequently appeared in the magazine, the exhibition features two canvases by Surrealist painter Mark Ryden. Fountain, 2003, depicts a young girl holding her own decapitated head while blood spurts from her neck. Rosie’s Tea Party, 2005, portrays another little girl wearing a cross and sitting at a pink table hosting a tea party for a kitten, a pink bunny rabbit, a baby, and a couple of rodents. In the painting she is cutting a ham that reads “Corpus Christi”—Latin for Body of Christ—with a saw. There is also a bottle of wine with a label depicting Jesus and a framed print or embroidery hanging on the wall that reads “Be Good.”

Arts commissioner Ben Loyola described the works as “very anti-Christian and anti-Catholic.” Commissioner Brian Kirwin said that he would “definitely consider zeroing [MOCA] out” by cutting future funding. According to museum spokeswoman Dot Greene, the commission allots $120,000 to the museum each year “to support hard cost exhibition expenses.” The sum amounts to 6 percent of the institution’s approximately $2 million operations budget.

Greene confirmed that the paintings will not be removed. “We do not find the work anti-Christian,” she said. “We recognize there are Christian symbols depicted in Rosie’s Tea Party along with a myriad of others. Symbolism and religious iconography in art have a long and storied history, all of which are up for personal interpretation.” In response to the call for funding to be admonished, she said that the two commissioners are expressing “their personal opinion and not that of the Commission.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship’s director of programs, Svetlana Mintcheva, wrote the commissioners to remind them that “as government officials, you cannot use your power to control public money so as to impose your interpretation of the work on the community as a whole and discriminate against ideas with which you disagree.”