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Saturday, March 31, 2007 - Page updated at 02:01 AM

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Gallery told to shut down chocolate Jesus display

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled Friday after Cardinal Edward Egan and other outraged Roman Catholics complained.

The "My Sweet Lord" display was shut down by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in midtown Manhattan. Roger Smith Hotel President James Knowles cited the public outcry for his decision.

Matt Semler, the gallery's creative director, resigned in protest.

The six-foot sculpture by artist Cosimo Cavallaro was the victim of "a strong-arming from people who haven't seen the show, seen what we're doing," Semler said.

But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as "a sickening display."

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, fumed, "It's an all-out war on Christianity. They wouldn't show a depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. with genitals exposed on Martin Luther King Day, and they wouldn't show Muhammad depicted this way during Ramadan. It's always Christians, and the timing is deliberate."

Cavallaro insisted the timing was purely coincidental.

"The choice of Easter was that there was availability in the gallery now," he said.

The hotel and the gallery were overrun Thursday with angry phone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Semler said the calls included death threats.

The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate and features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the Cavallaro creation does not include a loincloth.

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Cavallaro hoped the sculpture could be put on display elsewhere, Semler said.

Cavallaro is best-known for his quirky work with food as art: Past efforts include repainting a Manhattan hotel room in melted mozzarella, spraying five tons of pepper-jack cheese on a Wyoming home and festooning a four-poster bed with 312 pounds of processed ham.

Cavallaro, an Italian immigrant who was reared Catholic, insisted he wasn't trying to offend anyone. "This person is talking from a very narrow window," he said of Donohue. "If it makes them feel better, I'll ask for their forgiveness and do 10 Hail Marys, but they should just lighten up."

Material from the New York Daily News is included in this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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