In the final chapters of his 1883 novel Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise), Emile Zola makes a still-relevant comparison between the title department store and organized religion. “Churches, which were being gradually deserted by those of wavering faith, were being replaced by his bazaar,” he wrote. “Women came to spend their hours of leisure in his shop, the thrilling, disturbing hours which in the past they’d spent in the depths of a chapel [...] If he had closed his doors, there would have been a rising in the street, a desperate outcry from the worshippers whose confessional and altar he would have abolished.”
The conflict between consumer culture and contemporary religion is also the basis for the Sacred Goods art exhibition, in which a dozen artists “employ religious symbols to criticize the encroachment of the consumer culture on our lives” and “criticize the way religions use consumer values and practices in order to prosper.” The traveling exhibition is currently on display at the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel, where it has caused local Christians to absolutely lose their shit.
Although Sacred Goods opened in early August, photos of a sculpture called “McJesus” circulated on social media last week, and hundreds of angry Christians have materialized outside the museum. (We’re not sure which Bible verse advocates throwing a firebomb toward the museum’s front door—Molotov 3:29, maybe?—but that’s the one they’re using). And yeah, their fury is all being directed at a work by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, which depicts the crucifixion of an emaciated Ronald McDonald.
According to the Associated Press, church leaders have gone to district court, demanding that McJesus and his wooden cross are taken out of the museum, and the Israeli Culture Minister is also calling for the “disrespectful” piece to be boxed up and shipped back to Finland. (These folks also want to remove the Mary and Joseph-themed Barbie dolls created by Argentinian artists Pool y Marianela, whose Jesus-shaped cake caused its own little controversy in Buenos Aires last spring).
But—plot twist—Leinonen is also asking the museum to remove McJesus, because he said that it shouldn’t have been on display to start with. He told the Jerusalem Post that he didn’t want his work to be shown at the Haifa Museum, or any other museum in Israel, for that matter.
“I joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, that upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity,” Leinonen stated. “Israel overtly uses culture as a form of propaganda to whitewash or justify its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people. Therefore I do not wish to be part of this exhibition and I asked the museum to take my artwork off the exhibition.”
Leinonen said that he has sent two requests to the Haifa Museum of Art, asking for McJesus to be taken down. The museum, though, says that it borrowed the piece from the Zetterberg Gallery in Helsinki, and no one from the gallery has requested its removal.
“The gallery will respect the loan agreement with the Haifa Museum and the work will remain at the Museum's disposal until the end of the exhibition, as stated in the contract,” Ellinor Jansson, the associate director of the Zetterberg Gallery, told MUNCHIES. “Of course, we try to consider our artists' wishes, however, as a gallery, we will not take a stand in their personal or political interests.”
So far, more than 30,000 people have seen “Sacred Goods” at the Haifa Art Museum, and who knows how many more will use the controversy as a solid excuse to visit. Despite the protests from Christians and from government officials, Tal says that McJesus isn’t going anywhere. “If we take the art down, the next day we’ll have politicians demanding we take other things down and we’ll end up only with colorful pictures of flowers in the museum,” he told the AP.
He did agree to tape a sign to the door, advising the museum’s guests that some of the pieces on display might be offensive.
And some of the pieces might make them crave a hamberder.
This article originally appeared on Munchies US.