Surreal art exhibit at MOCA sparks controversy

"Rosie's Tea Party" by Mark Ryden

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, is a popular saying. The same could be said about art, but for some people what’s called “art” can cross the line and become offensive.

One of the most recognized contemporary art magazines is called ‘Hi-Fructose.’ In the April edition, there’s an insert promoting the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Show in Virginia Beach on May 21 that will feature 51 artists. Last Thursday, the Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission was briefed on the show, but when a commissioner saw a painting by Artist Mark Ryden, he was shocked and outraged.

Ryden is an internationally recognized pop surrealist artist that has caught the eye of commission member Ben Loyola. Loyola looked at one of Ryden’s paintings where a girl, who Loyola says he believes to be Ryden’s daughter, was holding her severed head in her hand. That painting is called “Fountain.” Loyola thinks the girl in that painting looks like the girl in another Ryden painting called, “Rosie’s Tea Party”, which is a painting of Ryden’s daughter.

"Rosie's Tea Party" by Mark Ryden
“Rosie’s Tea Party” by Mark Ryden

“Rosie’s Tea Party” is the piece that created the issue with Loyola. He was handed a picture of the painting promoting the art show. He was taken by surprise at the commission’s meeting.

“Look at this, she’s got a saw in her hand cutting off a piece of ham with the words on the ham ‘Corpus Christi.’ That is Latin for body of Christ, and the ham is dropping down and eaten by rats,” said Loyola.

He also pointed out that the girl is wearing a first communion dress with a crucifix around her neck, and a figure of Jesus on a bottle of wine. Also there’s a rabbit pouring a teapot with blood coming out.

“This is very anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. I was shocked to see this,” Loyola added.

“Rosie’s Tea Party” headlines the show at MOCA.

Addressing “Fountain” Loyola said, “She is holding the severed head, and blood is spraying up and showering her in blood. Is this what we are subsidizing at MOCA?”.

Loyola only cares about this because MOCA gets $120,000 in taxpayer money which is 26 percent of his commission’s budget.

Loyola notes that other Ryden paintings he has problems with will not be part of the show.

“There are paintings of nude portraits in all positions.” Since Loyola was not sure which paintings would be part of the show, Loyola wants Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle to confirm whether the art in the show is considered obscene or pornographic.

Stolle’s office confirms they got a call from Loyola, and they are in the process of responding to the request. MOCA Executive Director Debi Gray says Loyola is sounding like he supports censorship.

“Art is intended to be controversial. To some degree it’s intended to spark dialog, and I am delighted it has fulfilled our mission,” Gray says.

Photos: Surreal Art Exhibit Opening at Virginia MOCA

Loyola countered, “I’m responding to her false claim. Obviously she feels she can do what she wants with taxpayer money. Not on my watch.”

Loyola is concerned that Ryden’s work pokes fun at religion.

“I am really not poking fun at religion. I am just looking at it in different ways,” Ryden said. “Someone ought to poke fun at those Christians, though.”

“I am very concerned and horrified of having this, and we don’t know the details of the opening May 21. This is anti-Christian,” Loyola said.

Over at MOCA, “Contemporary art is intended for dialog,” Gray says.

The exhibition opens next Saturday. A meeting for next year’s Museum funding is coming up in two weeks.

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