The Haifa Museum of Art is resisting calls to remove an artwork that features a crucified Ronald McDonald from one of its exhibitions.

Finnish artist Jani Leinonen‘s McJesus sculpture is currently on display in the ‘Sacred Goods‘ exhibition, which runs until next month. However, its inclusion has caused controversy, with hundreds of Christians last week protesting outside the institution and calling for it to be removed.

The demonstrations eventually turned ugly, with protesters trying to storm their way into the museum through the police, and a firebomb being thrown at the building. According to the Independent, officers used tear gas and stun grenades to clear the crowd, with at least one man reportedly being arrested.

The disturbances come despite Leinonen’s own previous requests for his work to be taken down. He told the Art Newspaper: “The news about the demonstrations came to me as an upsetting surprise particularly because my work is in the exhibition against my wishes.

“In September 2018, I asked the curator Shaked Shamir to remove my work because I joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement [against Israel]. The curator replied that she was sorry about my decision and that my message had been forwarded to the management and I assumed that the artwork had been taken out.”

The artist added that following the demonstrations, he immediately sent the curator another request to remove the work. However, he said: “I have not heard anything back from the museum.”

Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev has also sent Haifa Museum of Art’s director, Nissim Tal, a letter demanding the sculpture’s removal. In it, he said: “Disrespect of religious symbols sacred to many worshippers in the world as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate and cannot serve as art at a cultural institution supported by state funds.”

Despite meeting with church leaders and officials from the Haifa Municipality, the museum has continued to refuse to remove the work. Instead, it has erected a sign at the entrance to the exhibition explaining that it contains potentially offensive content.

Responding to the museum’s decision to continue exhibiting the work, Reverend Archimandrite Agapious Abu Sa’ada of the Greek Melkite Catholic Archeparchy of Akko told Haaretz newspaper: “We denounce the exhibition and the injury to the holiest symbol of Christianity by an institution that is supposed to serve citizens of all religions.

“What is suitable for Europe and the Christian population of Finland is not suitable for our community and cannot be met with understanding.”

Jani Leinonen, McJesus, 2015. Photo: Vilhelm Sjöström; Courtesy: the artist and Zetterberg Gallery

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