Controversial billboard defaced

Artscape piece pictured Jesus as beer pitchman

August 06, 2002|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

A controversial outdoor artwork depicting Jesus Christ as a celebrity hawking bottled beer was vandalized over the weekend by someone who threw a can of white paint on the image.

The damaged artwork, a billboard erected along Mount Royal Avenue by New Jersey artist Ron English - part of the recent Artscape festival - was hauled away yesterday by a city crew.

The vandalism was discovered Saturday morning by an employee of the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art, who notified the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which organized the festival.

Bill Gilmore, the director of BOPAC, said the vandalism apparently occurred between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Saturday. There were no witnesses, and no one has claimed responsibility for the damage, Gilmore said.

Artscape officials became aware of the controversy the billboard was generating soon after it was erected on the median strip in the 1200 block of Mount Royal Avenue last month.

"We had gotten a couple of e-mails and comments during Artscape, and some people told me that they had heard about it on the radio," Gilmore said. "We called the artist Friday to let him know this thing was heating up and that there was a chance [his painting] might be attacked."

Gilmore said the artist declined the city's offer to remove his artwork for its own safety and instead asked Artscape officials to give viewers his telephone number so that they could contact him directly with any complaints.

English is best known for paintings and billboards that spoof the mindless consumerism of advertising and commercial images. The vandalized artwork depicted a long-haired, bearded Jesus holding a beer bottle and the words "The King of the Jews for the King of Beers."

Logan Hicks, a California-based curator who organized the outdoor sculpture exhibit that included English's work, said the billboard "was meant to touch on the absurdity of inner-city advertising, the proliferation of alcohol advertising and the large number of celebrity endorsers for products."

English did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

Artscape officials were told by police that the vandalism was considered destruction of property, a misdemeanor, Gilmore said.

"I'm trying to be fair [to critics of the work], but at the same time I'm disappointed that it came to this," he said. "What's best for Artscape is high quality and diversity; not everything is going to be white bread. I'm not going to shy away from controversy."

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