“The Creation of Adam” is one of the most famous works of art ever created — and one of the most copied, remixed and parodied. But a Chicago artist’s reimagining of Michelangelo’s masterpiece has ruffled some feathers.
Harmonia Rosales’ new work, “The Creation of God,” riffs on Michelangelo’s portrayal of God’s creation of Earth’s first human, Adam. But her version depicts the deity not as a white-haired white man, but as a black woman, reaching out to touch another, younger black woman.
Those critics have decried Rosales’ artwork as a “disgrace,” “disgusting” and “cultural appropriation.”
The uproar over this particular interpretation of “The Creation of God” is odd: Literally thousands of versions of the painting exist, from sincere homages to jokey parodies. “The Simpsons” has spoofed the iconic image at least five times, while “Arrested Development” used the work of art as a hilarious set piece, with its “Adam” clad in cutoff denim shorts. You can even buy a sticker or throw pillow depicting the scene as re-created by 1990s cult cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead.
Plus, “The Creation of God” is part of a long and very serious tradition of artists reinterpreting or remixing classic works of art in order to make a cultural, social or political statement. Andy Warhol combined religious and commercial iconography in his 60 versions of Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Contemporary artist Sherrie Levine questions the idea of authorship by copying artists like photographer Walker Evans and Marcel Duchamp (who himself gave the “Mona Lisa” a mustache in the name of the Dada movement). Painter Kehinde Wiley has reimagined several aggrandizing European portraits — such as one of Napoleon on a horse — by replacing their white protagonists with urban black youths.
So what makes Rosales’ black Goddess so offensive to these detractors? Easy: racism.
Some critics argue that it’s a desecration of an artistic masterpiece — but you’d think such art lovers would have stepped into a museum at some point in their lives and spotted at least one reinterpretation of a classic, from Dali’s mystical “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” to Lichtenstein’s pop version of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom at Arles.”
Hell, even the Vatican — where “The Creation of Adam” adorns the Sistine Chapel — has various examples of this. Do these same people take to Twitter every time they walk into a bar that displays that tacky version of “The Last Supper” with Jim Morrison?
The other big argument is that the painting depicts a religious subject. Yet, since the Garden of Eden was likely somewhere in the Middle East, and Michelangelo’s Adam is an alabaster-skinned European dude, it seems ridiculous to champion his work as the definitive depiction of this Bible story.
Rosales didn’t create her painting as a joke or gag, but as a serious work of art, which — even if you don’t like the result — does show a certain reverence for the material. But it seems like a bunch of people would rather see God depicted as Beavis than as a black woman.