United Kingdom

Jewish gallery courts controversy with crucifixion show

Some critics say exhibition of cross imagery caters to non-Jewish audience

Graham Sutherland, Crucifixion, 1947

The Ben Uri Gallery, London’s Jewish Museum of Art has stirred up controversy by showcasing an exhibit of crucifixion paintings by artists including Graham Sunderland.

Critics denounced the show, “Cross Purposes: Shock and Contemplation in Images of the Crucifixion”, as inappropriate for a Jewish museum. Benjamin Perl, a patron of the gallery went so far as to say the museum was “trying to play to the non-Jews. What type of material is this for our Jewish museum?”

David Glasser, co-chairman of the gallery, responded in an email to supporters by saying that the museum is “very proud to represent the Jewish community in the mainstream but this like all our challenging exhibitions are totally from the artistic context. Ben Uri as a museum does not address issues from a religious context.”

Glasser was also concerned by a poll on the website of the Jewish Chronicle (since finished) asking whether or not a Jewish museum should stage an exhibition of Crucifixion art. The poll came out overwhelmingly in favour of the show, with 63% of participants supporting it.

Glasser mentioned that many of the people complaining about the show had not actually visited the exhibition. The point of the exhibition, he said, was that the representation of the Crucifixion has evolved from being a sacred Christian image into a “generic image to powerfully highlight the cause in question”. Glasser also commented that since the initial backlash the gallery had received many messages of support.

“Cross Purposes” contains 28 works by artists such as Tracey Emin, Duncan Grant, and Lee Miller. It is on show at the St John’s Wood-based gallery until 19 September.

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19 Aug 10
21:7 CET


Agree. How will we learn about the diversity of beliefs if museums only show what is acceptable to their audiences? There should be greater exchanging of exhibitions between different museums.

19 Aug 10
21:16 CET


Have the people who object forgotten that Jesus was Jewish?

31 Jul 10
7:46 CET


Sometimes we have to be grown up in life. These paintings should be viewed for technique and composition as well as subject matter. I am not Jewish but I have no problem whatsoever in reading Jewish texts so why should some members of the Jewish community fall apart by looking at crucifixion paintings? This is a perfect example of why there are problems with Jewish/Christian relations. Someone somewhere has to be the adult and to take the lead. It's art. It chronicles something important in the Christian religion. They are probably oil on canvas or board, or maybe chalk on paper. The pictures have a merit in the way they were executed - or perhaps the quality itself is poor .. THAT is what should be discussed. It is time to leave bias and childish tantrums at the main door and to go in and intelligently see art for art's sake. Children learn from adults - how can we ever progress if the adults harbour & continue with these religious resentments in academic arena?

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