(Photo courtesy of Michael D’Antuono)
A painting that was removed from an art installation in New York City because of public backlash is now on display at the Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery, sparking outrage as well as an outpouring of support for the artist. The portrait depicts President Obama as Jesus, wearing a Crown of Thorns with his arms outstretched.
Michael D’Antuono’s painting, which is called “The Truth,” is part of a larger exhibit “Artists on the Stump: The Road to the White House 2012.” According to the gallery’s website, the exhibition is an opportunity for artists to “weigh in on the issues, candidates and country.”
The showcase, which opened Oct. 29 and is scheduled to end Dec. 15, features work by more than 20 artists.
"Some of our shows are meant to be thought provoking," said Karen Norton, spokeswoman for Bunker Hill Community College. "The exhibit was intended to coincide with the presidential election, and it represents different points of view pertaining to politics and our political leaders."
Laura L. Montgomery, who is the director of the Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery, did not respond to a phone call or email from The Globe.
D’Antuono, who has been an illustrator for nearly 25 years, began crafting political works of art in 2009. “The Truth” was his first piece, which he had planned to display as an art installation in New York’s Union Square Park on Obama’s 100th day in office.
He said the painting was to be in a mock voting booth; the idea was members of the public would view the painting privately, and they would then be interviewed about what they thought of the piece. But D’Antuono decided to pull the installation after receiving approximately 4,000 angry emails about the painting. His family also voiced concerns for their safety, because of the amount of publicity the painting was generating.
“I was threatened for eternal damnation,” D’Antuono said. “One lady said, ‘I hope you get arthritis in both your hands and can never paint again.’”
In a phone interview Tuesday, D’Antuono said he feels that many of the people who were sickened by the painting may have missed its real meaning.
“They weren’t interesting in the point of the painting,” he said. “They didn’t get that far.”
D’Antuono said he personally does not associate Obama with Christ; rather, this work is a commentary on the conservative media, who he thinks “crucified” Obama with their attacks. Additionally, the conservative press promoted the idea that liberals thought Obama was their “savior,” D’Antuono said.
“People were very upset and I was in no way comparing the President to Jesus,” he said. “That wasn’t the concept of the piece; I just took the things that were associated with Obama at the time.”
In 2009, D’Antuono told The Los Angeles Times, “I canceled the showing out of respect for religion. It was not meant to offend so many people," he said. "I don't think it would be helpful to the cause of unity to show it.”
The response this time has been more mixed, D’Antuono said. He has been receiving angry emails as well as a lot of positive emails condemning the backlash to his art.
In addition to “The Truth,” D’Antuono has five other paintings in the exhibit. One of the paintings, “Trick or Treat,” is of Mitt Romney and Obama as children trick or treating. Obama is dressed as Robin Hood giving his candy to a child donning a hobo costume, and Romney is dressed as the Monopoly Man, stealing candy from another child.
D’Antuono said he welcomes criticisms of his paintings, and that he just wants to be able to express his own opinions through art.
“I’m not denying them their right to speak and conversely they should not deny me,” D’Antuono said.
Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.