June - August 1997
Lee Roy Champagne
Light of the World (detail)
mixed media with neon
5' x 12' x 10"
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LEE ROY CHAMPAGNE was commissioned about three years ago to do a relief sculpture for a new parish hall being built for St. Dominic's Church in Benicia CA. The piece, made from a variety of materials, including neon, and called "Light of the World," took 12 months to construct and was unveiled at the time the building was dedicated. Champagne, a member of the church, donated both materials (about $12,000) and his artist's fee, which would have been considerable because he has completed several other commissions in his 25-plus year career.|
Some of the parishioners and church staff did not like the sculpture and circulated a petition to have it removed. Their efforts subsided, however, until last April when there was a great deal of publicity over another work of his. That one, in a show at St. Mary's College in Moraga CA, was called "Shrine to the Madonna of the Mundane." It shows a pierced Barbie doll singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Between her legs is "boy toy." It engendered a great deal of debate on campus, an angered gallery-goer attacked it with a hatchet, and someone sent an anonymous threatening letter to the Benicia newspaper.
Reinvigorated by the new attention to the sculptor, the group against "Light of the World" intensified their efforts and the new pastor has now ruled that the piece must be removed. He says that he's not against the sculpture personally, but the feud and its publicity distract from the running of the church. Champagne, who is no stranger to controversy or publicity, says the battle is part of a religious war being waged by his critics and writes in a widely-distributed letter, "Support by all in the arts (secular or sacred) and attention to these injustices are crucial to our times when puritanical politics are increasingly threatening to sterilize if not the genocide the arts." He can be reached at 800-626-4217.
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