Make us your home page
Instagram

Emotionally charged 'Homeless Jesus' sculpture in Tampa a social statement

The sculpture titled Homeless Jesus was recently installed at the downtown Tampa campus of Hyde Park United Methodist Church. It's an emotionally charged image of Jesus huddled on a bench, shrouded by a blanket, his feet protruding to reveal the holes from the nails that affixed them to the cross during the Crucifixion. As in other countries and U.S. cities, the sculpture has invited praise and controversy but little critical commentary as a work of art.

There's a reason.

The cast bronze sculpture by Timothy Schmalz is technically well done. But like all art past and present that gets little attention from critics, it exists in its time but isn't of its time. Homeless Jesus is a throwback, doing nothing new or interesting aesthetically. There's nothing much to say about it.

I doubt the artist cares. He has stressed several times in interviews that this is a social statement, meant to bring awareness to Jesus' literal connection to homeless people as a homeless person himself.

Art as social statement is a tradition. It has validity but needs more than that intent to be taken seriously as art. So who gets to decide art's merit?

Thinking about that question took me back many decades to my Art History 101 class. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about art, but in that class I realized how little I had seen. One day, the professor flashed onto the screen Donatello's sculpture of Mary Magdalene. It was the first time any of us had seen it, and we all gasped.

The carved wood work showed a haggard woman so different from the usual Western depictions of her as beautiful and pure. We swooned over it, moved by the powerful emotional response it elicited.

Then the professor clicked on a closeup of her hands joined in a gesture of prayer.

"Isn't the sculpture a bit much, a bit too emotional?" he asked. "Wouldn't it be better art if Donatello had just used those eloquent hands?"

And there it was.

For the first time in my life, I was asked to look at art analytically. To judge it based more on intellectual principles than gut reaction. I have never looked at art in the same way, which has been a gain and a loss.

I learned the importance of seeing as much art as possible to provide context and comparison. I want to understand art as a timeline that is connected through the centuries. A contemporary work might look as fresh as the paint with which it's made, but it is part of art history and has some debt to the past, however obscure.

But I can never escape some level of personal bias. I don't believe anyone can. I have no problem saying I don't think a work is important art, but I also have a responsibility to reason through my opinion.

I long ago lost my sense of wondrous discovery when first seeing a work, and my enthusiasm for Penitent Magdalene is not as great as it was 40-plus years ago. I find it "a bit much," but I still consider it important art because it is both beautifully worked and a departure from tradition. Donatello deviated from the accepted portrayal, probably drawing his inspiration from the Mary Magdalene of the Eastern Orthodox church. His contemporaries were astonished by the work's realism, and it no doubt had detractors.

My knee-jerk reaction to art such as Homeless Jesus is to dismiss it because it has nothing to do with what I do. I can't leave it at that, though, because I also believe that the act of creating, for whatever reason and with whatever proficiency, is important. People like me may judge or ignore, but the act itself is its own validation.

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

Emotionally charged 'Homeless Jesus' sculpture in Tampa a social statement 03/31/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2016 11:15am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 20

    Events

    The Art of the Brick: An elaborate display of more than 100 pieces of Lego artwork including the life sized sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T. rex skeleton, a giant skull and replicas of famous works including Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona …

    Eliana Goldberg, 5, of Wesley Chapel looks at a Lego sculpture called "Everlasting" at The Art of the Brick exhibit, which opened Friday in Tampa and runs through Sept. 4. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  2. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 19

    Events

    Monster Jam Triple Threat Series: Come early for the Pit Party ($15 or free at local Ford dealers) to meet the drivers and get pictures with the trucks. 7 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $15-$80. (813) 301-2500.

    A crew member from the El Toro Loco monster truck, installs a truck tire, Thursday, 8/17/17 in preparation for Saturday's  Monster Jam Triple Threat Series at Amalie Arena, Tampa. The event will be held Saturday at 1pm and 7 pm.
  4. There's a bar in Tampa where you can roller skate and eat sushi

    Food & Dining

    Roller skating, it's not just for kids birthday parties and the 1970s anymore.

    The exterior of Pattinis features this mural by Art Aliens! [Pattinis South Tampa via Facebook]
  5. At 'American Idol' auditions in Orlando, there are life lessons in line

    Music & Concerts

    LAKE BUENA VISTA — From her spot across the lawn, Sasha Orihuela studies her son.

    Jeremy Joshua Dorsey reacts after past American Idol contestants walk by ahead of his audition at the Disney Springs in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017. 

Hundreds of people showed up for the first auditions for ABC's reboot of 'American Idol'. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times