Hirst angers church with his latest exhibition

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The Independent Online

The artist Damien Hirst was accused by the Church of England yesterday of using shock to promote his latest exhibition which features controversial religious images.

The artist Damien Hirst was accused by the Church of England yesterday of using shock to promote his latest exhibition which features controversial religious images.

A bare-breasted woman on a crucifix wearing a crown of barbed wire, and cigarette butts glued to a cross are two of the works Hirst has created with the photographer David Bailey.

The collection of 14 large-scale photographs goes on sale in an exhibition called Stations of the Cross, which opens at the Gagosian Gallery in central London today. They will be exhibited at the gallery until 5 June and are expected to fetch £15,000 each.

A Church of England spokesman said yesterday: "The images would appear to be about shock and publicity. With some of them, it's very difficult to understand what it is they're trying to say. Many will not understand the message behind Damien Hirst's images and will be offended by them."

One of the images, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, shows a naked man surrounded by yearning women. A severed calf's head, a bloodied human skull and a pot of blood make up an exhibit called Jesus falls the first time. Two other pictures, Jesus falls the second time and Jesus falls the third time, invert a woman's thighs and stomach so they appear to be the chest and arms of a torso and place a human skull and a hacked-up cow's head where Christ's head would be.

Hirst defended the sexual imagery in the exhibition: "I think that's the way to get people into church, isn't it? You know he's a young guy and he's good-looking, looking up to heaven: innocence.

"You only have to go and watch any Hollywood film, a play or TV, it's just full of it, there's death, murder bloodshed. But for some reason when it's the same subjects being addressed by an artist they treat it like a negative thing, like it is sensational.

"I don't know at what point people think you should go off and paint quiet landscapes - but it's never even occurred to me." A spokeswoman for the Gagosian Gallery said: "These photographs are a fascinating contemporary interpretation of Christian iconography and we are delighted to have this exhibition." She added the work "continued" a fascination Hirst had with Christian iconography. "Together, Bailey and Hirst have produced an engaging and visceral body of provocative images, which transform our speculation and interest in Christian thought in the context of the modern world," she said.

The latest exhibition is not the first time Hirst has depicted Jesus in an unusual light. Last year, an exhibition which grossed millions of pounds at the White Cube Gallery had as its main piece a work called Jesus and the disciples, made up of 13 formaldehyde-filled cubes, 12 of which contained cows' heads. It was the only piece in the show not for sale.

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