Pinault’s electric chair Christ upsets the French; black version to be shown in London

Paul Fryer's work was installed in the city of Gap over Easter weekend


A life-like wax sculpture of Christ seated in an electric chair, on loan from the collection of French luxury goods magnate François Pinault, caused outrage in France when it was installed in the cathedral of the city of Gap over Easter weekend.

The work, by the British artist Paul Fryer, shows a half life-size Christ bearing the scars of the Crucifixion and wearing a crown of thorns with blood pouring out of his wounds.

Some locals accused the artist and the Church of sacrilege for not showing Christ on the Cross. However, the Bishop of Gap, Jean-Michel di Falco, defended the sculpture. “If Jesus had been sentenced today, he would have to reckon with the electric chair or other barbaric methods of execution. [What is] scandalous is…not Jesus in the electric chair, but the indifference to his crucifixion,” he said.

Now Fryer is working on a new version of the sculpture showing Christ as a black man. It will be displayed in the Holy Trinity Church, a deconsecrated space on Marylebone Road, London, in October as part of an exhibition organised by All Visual Arts to coincide with Frieze art fair.

Paul Fryer says the sculpture “pulls together a lot of different threads in my work” and combines his interests in electricity and spirituality.

His new black Christ is partly inspired by political concerns. “An overwhelming number of black people are killed in the chair,” he says.

Fryer, who studied at Leeds College of Art with Damien Hirst, said he first made a work showing Christ in the electric chair at art school in 1983. “It was rubbish,” says Fryer. “It went into the skip.” Years later, Hirst “encouraged me to return to the subject, so I did,” he says. He has since made several versions. One, which is “covered in wounds”, is owned by Hirst himself. “It’s on display in his office in front of a Francis Bacon painting, and there are pools of blood on the carpet around it,” says Fryer.

Another is owned by Scottish property investor and collector David Roberts.

Fryer denies that the work is intended to shock. “I don’t want to upset anyone. I’m not in the market for that,” he says. “[As an artist] if you feel you have something to say, then you have to say it.”

Meanwhile, The Art Newspaper has learned that François Pinault, who owns several works by Fryer, is also planning to unveil a major new sculpture by American artist Charles Ray in Venice. The giant statue, which will show a boy holding a frog as if it has just been pulled from the water, will be installed on the Grand Canal to coincide with the opening of Mr Pinault’s new museum at the Punta della Dogana, a former Customs House, on 6 June.