AI: The Holy Virgin Mary

Time for another go at skeptical art critique. For this week I’ve chosen a work that raised considerable controversy: The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili.

The mixed media creation featured an abstracted woman with exaggerated African features clad in a blue shall typically used to depict the biblical Virgin Mary. The painting also included collage elements of butterfly like decorations made from images of female genitalia. Finally an exposed breast and supports for the piece were made from polished pieces of elephant dung.

It caused quite a stir when it toured.

How do you view this work? Was it in poor taste? Was it brilliant? How should it be interpreted? In what context should we view it?

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Ryan Consell is a skeptical artist, tap-dancing armorer, juggling scientist, rock-climbing writer, sword-fighting math teacher, uni-cycling gamer, fire-spinning academic and devout nerd. He has a Masters in Applied science, most of a bachelors in Fine Arts, and a very short attention span. He is the author of How Not to Poach a Unicorn and half of the masochistic comedy duo that is Creative Dissonance. Follow him on Twitter @StudentofWhim


  1. September 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I remember that Rudy Giuliani got a lot of political capital out of criticizing this work and demanding that the Bklyn Museum take it off display because there was tax payer money involved and it offended religious sensibilities. I’ve never seen it before though.

    I’m surprised by the look of the elephant dung. The way it was described then make me think it was splattered about and fresh. Of course it’s anything but that. Seeing it now makes me seethe all over again at what a demagogic idiot Giuliani is.

  2. September 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    @Rodriguez: You basically just wrote the comment that I was going to write, so, ditto.
    As for the questions: I’m not sure I know what ‘in poor taste’ means anymore with regard to contemporary art. It doesn’t offend me and it probably wouldn’t have offended the young Catholic version of me. As far as interpretation, I’m about to look up the artist’s intended meaning, since I can’t make heads of tails of it. I was happy about the furor it caused when it was displayed in the ‘Sensations’ exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. But as for the artwork itself… I don’t really feel anything, one way or another.

  3. September 27, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Brian’s commentary perfectly encapsulates my own thoughts and reaction [or non-reaction] to the piece.

  4. October 4, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I like it. I’m not an art person but I like this.

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