"Religion, Flesh and Power," a retrospective honoring Hrdlicka, who turned 80 this year, at the museum of Vienna's Roman Catholic Cathedral, features works such as a depiction of the Crucifixion in which a soldier simultaneously beats Jesus and holds his genitals, an image of Jesus on the cross without a face or a loincloth, and - the painting that has provoked the most intense criticism - an interpretation of the Last Supper in which the Apostles are seen sprawling over the dining table and sexually pleasuring one another.
Hrdlicka, a self-proclaimed athiest and communist, says he represented the men in this way because there are no women in the Da Vinci painting which inspired it. The work has been called "blasphemy" and "desecration" on blogs from Austria, Germany, and the United States, and has been removed from the show.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said in a statement that the removal was not an act of censorship but "an act of respect towards those believers who feel this portrayal offended and provoked them in their deepest religious sensitivity." Representatives of the church and museum said they never intended to offend viewers with the show, but rather prompt debate and show that controversial, religiously themed works can be discussed without taboo.
"I don't see any blasphemy here," said museum director Bernhard Boehler. "People can imagine what they want to."