When does art become sacrilegious smut? In the eyes of one controversial Montanan, when it depicts Jesus with his eyes rolled back while receiving oral sex.
Last week, Kathleen Folden, a 56-year-old trucker from Kalispell, made a statement that's reverberated throughout the country. She drove 15 hours down to Loveland, Colo., walked into the Loveland Museum Gallery and, wearing a T-shirt that read "My Savior Is Tougher Than Nails," pulled out a crowbar. She then smashed the plexiglass covering the Jesus Christ lithograph and proceeded to ceremoniously rip the print up.
What Folden destroyed was part of an exhibition by San Francisco artist and Stanford University professor Enrique Chagoya that had drawn weeks of protests. It shows Jesus, with large breasts and red-painted fingernails, being pleasured by a young man, with the word "Orgasmo" displayed in the background.
Why'd Folden do it? "Because it desecrates my Lord," she reportedly said following the rampage. Police arrested her on a charge of criminal mischief, a fourth-degree felony in Colorado.
The incident has sparked heated debate in the northern Colorado city, one that, on paper, appears not unlike Missoula, with its population of 60,000, vibrant arts community and pockets of staunch conservatism.
For Folden's sympathizers, her violent act was in response to art that constitutes blasphemy. (One of her fans anonymously posted her $350 cash bond.) Rev. Ed Armijo, a deacon at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Loveland, told The New York Times: "It is deeply offensive to see our Lord depicted that way. It is our position that this is not art. It's pornography."
For others, the act amounts to censorship, violating Chagoya's right to create whatever he wants. He reportedly intended for the images, collectively titled "The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals," to be viewed as a commentary on corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Loveland Museum Gallery's Facebook page has unofficially hosted the ongoing debate. For example, the posting of an image on Saturday of Jesus on horseback was meant to serve as an example of "real art." It elicited this response:
"...clearly the communities cannot discuss the institutionalized sexual abuse of little boys as it is not, has not and clearly won't be addressed. So we will address it. And men like Chagoya will address it."
Folden heads to court on Friday, where she'll presumably continue to fight over what is and isn't art—and lose. The courts clearly ruled crusades against artistic expression are futile. Besides, how can Chagoya's work be called pornographic? He left Jesus' dress on.