Banksy has used his latest artwork – a blurred out sculpture of a priest’s head – to highlight sex abuse scandals in the church.
Days after his playful new biplane street stencil was discovered (and vandalised) in Liverpool, the Bristolian has revealed his second gift to the city - a sculpture entitled Cardinal Sin.
Rather than mount it somewhere in the street Banksy chose the Walker Art Gallery as the location to exhibit his latest creation, a replica of an 18th century stone bust with its face replaced by bathroom tiles that make it look ‘pixelated’. It is intended as commentary on attempts by the church to cover up child abuse scandals.
The artist said in a statement: “I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year it is easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity - the lies, the corruption and the abuse.”
Banksy also explained his choice of venue: “I love everything about the Walker Art Gallery: the Old Masters, the contemporary art, the rude girl in the cafe. When I found out Mr Walker built it with beer money, it became my favourite gallery.”
As ever, there is a more serious point being made beneath the artist’s deadpan sense of humour. By insisting Cardinal Sin be hung beside the gallery’s period collection next to work from the 18th century, rather than in the modern section beside Hockney and Lucian Freud, Banksy is inviting us to consider the long shadow the church casts over history - not to mention art.
While many classical works venerate the church, his, in contrast, reduces it to the status of a criminal caught on CCTV. Cardinal Sin – in particular the timing and positioning of the work – shows that despite his success, Banksy has lost none of his ability to sum up contemporary British attitudes to grand old institutions with a flash of caustic wit.
In an article in The Times, staff at the gallery admitted that the sculpture is a controversial choice in a city where support for the Catholic church is more wide spread than much of the rest of the UK.
Rayahn King, the director of National Museums Liverpool told the paper: “We thought long and hard about displaying it but we have quite a few works on display which were considered quite controversial.” The gallery also described the work as a “huge coup”.