In a family of Christians and Catholics, I’ve always strayed farther from the cross, dabbling in Wicca and Buddhism. Being Filipino, you can only imagine the distress this causes some members of my family. During my Wicca days, I remember talking to my cousin about it while he was finishing up Christian college. In a fit of anxiety, he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Can I pray for you??”

Without getting into my spiritual beliefs too much, I thought I’ve always had a healthy skepticism toward really orthodox religions, which is why I was intrigued by Francesco Vezzoli’s newest exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, Sacrilegio. In these works of art, Vezzoli takes portraits of Madonna-and-Child painted by various greats such as Leonardo, Giovanni Bellini and Rafaello and created needlepoint images, replacing the Madonna’s face with that of different supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Tatijana Patitz. (Refinery 29 lamented that Abbey Lee Kershaw wasn’t included to which I say, Pffft! She is no supermodel, sor-ryyyy! Yes, the era of The Supermodel is ovah.) What message is the Italian artist trying to send to the masses?

“The Church commissioned some of the most erotically charged images in the history of art,” Vezzoli explains. “Using supermodels is my way of saying that the original paintings are really sensual.” In conflating supermodels with historical religious icons, Vezzoli points to the societal worship of figures from the fashion and celebrity industries.
Provocative? Yes. Religious? According to Vezzoli, yes, though not in the way the Pope would approve of. As for Vezzoli himself, he declares, “I believe in the religion of other people’s creativity…Catholicism wasn’t for me. I’m not holy enough— I’m a dirty boy.” Word.

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