On a misty day last week, The Isolated Christ walked through Manhattan. The journey started at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where police officers said to move along, went down the soggy street of Fifth Avenue and ended at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Nelson Diaz, the artist, decided to walk The Isolated Christ (pictured) through Manhattan to rebel against the idea that art is just for elite collectors who buy paintings like real estate, with no idea of its beauty or what it means. His has been called the least controversial piece of Jesus art, probably because at first glance its meaning is the most obscure.
The Isolated Christ melds metaphysics and mathematics, and is inspired by both Da Vinci and Francis Bacon. Diaz tries to create a sense of four-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, to make the point that Da Vinci was trying to make in The Last Supper---Christ is transcendent. In Da Vinci's painting, the vanishing point is at Jesus' face; in Diaz' work, he puts the vanishing point into infinity, "to situate Christ in an infinite plane" and establish His transcendence in "both the spiritual and scientific realms."
New York has a troubled relationship with Jesus in art. Back in the 1980s, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine unveiled Edwina Sandys' depiction of Jesus as a woman on a cross. In 1989, New York artist Andres Serrano dipped a crucifix in urine and took a photograph. In 2007, artist Cosimo Cavallaro took chocolate and sculpted a six-foot, anatomically correct, nude sculpture of Jesus. He exhibited it during Holy Week until Catholics protested, and the exhibit closed. (It was revived in October, without protest.) We have His name haphazardly tacked on to non-religious displays, like "Generational: Younger than Jesus," which features artists under age 33. In April of this year, another artist's display in Union Square was cancelled. This one featured Obama as Jesus, with a crown of thorns and in a crucifix pose, in a mock voting booth.
You can't help but notice the tone-deafness of the artists, who never seem to imagine why their art could possibly offend. But you also have to notice the deafness of the protestors, who never seem to ponder what the art could mean.
The Isolated Christ is not arousing much wrath in New York, though. People walked past, most not giving it another glance. An assistant walking alongside the moving art display told me that in Rome it was another story. They were outraged, even though the point was Christ's transcendence.