“Eggs Benedict” art installation portrays former pope using 17,000 condoms

Last week, the Milwaukee Art Museum unveiled “Eggs Benedict,” a depiction of former Pope Benedict XVI made entirely out of colorful, high-end condoms.

The installation is meant to highlight the former pontiff’s assertion that condoms were not the answer to the spread of HIV and AIDS.

According to the museum’s director, Daniel Keegan, the installation was scheduled to be unveiled later this year, but was moved up due to overwhelming interest from museum guests:

We’ve had thousands of people come to the museum expecting to see the art work when the story first broke and have not been able to see it. And of course there have been many people who have been commenting about the work, primarily online, who are making decisions about the work without actually seeing it. So it just made sense. We thought to just put it out and let people decide for themselves.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki blasted the art installation in a blog post last month, rehashing common arguments as to religion’s privilege to curtail speech and artistic expression:

In the last few weeks, we have been confronted with Bruce Jenner who wishes to be Caitlyn Jenner and accepted as a woman, and a female director of the NAACP, who presents herself as an African American woman (however was born and raised in a Caucasian family). Now, the Milwaukee Art Museum – the Calatrava – accepted a work that fashions a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI out of condoms and refers to it as art. What is similar in all these situations, is that they each rely on the notion of “radical individualism” based on personal freedom, that is exercised without license.

Observers gather around Eggs Benedict, screenshot via YouTube

Observers gather around Eggs Benedict, screenshot via YouTube

Now, I am all for freedom. Americans hold freedom sacred and the Church is for freedom. Remember, Jesus Christ died to make us free. But, freedom is never exercised in a vacuum. Freedom demands responsibility and that is a responsibility to truth, beauty and goodness (sorry, if I’m bringing the Ancient Greeks into the discussion, but it’s hard to ignore the obvious wisdom)…

…An artist who claims his or her work is some great social commentary and a museum that accepts it, insults a religious leader of a church, whose charitable outreach through its missionaries and ministers has eased the pain of those who suffer throughout the world, must understand the rejection of this local action by the believers who themselves have been insulted.

Of course, Archbishop Listecki misses the point entirely. Committed Catholics are supposed to be made to feel uncomfortable by the installation, as it calls their former leader out directly for supporting policies that are costing countless lives around the world. Regardless as to what you think about whether offense for offense’s sake should be put on display, this isn’t that. Bad ideas deserve ridicule, especially when that ridicule is used to encourage a reconsideration of the bad ideas in question.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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