One of the judges of Australia's top religious art competition has resigned in vehement objection to a work that has been included in the finalists' short list.
Australian art critic and historian Christopher Allen resigned from the panel of judges after Adam Cullen's triptych Corpus Christi made the short list for the $20,000 Blake Prize for Religious Art.
Corpus Christi depicts Jesus on the cross with the inscription, "Only women bleed," a line from a song by rocker Alice Cooper.
Allen told ABC Radio that he did not like the painting, which he said "has a kind of deliberate ugliness that has been exploited as a gimmick."
He added that he'd believed another judge agreed that Cullen's piece shouldn't be included. "I thought we'd made big progress," he said, "and that it was going to be a much more coherent show than last year's and therefore the work I'd put in had not been wasted."
The judge he was referring to had initially believed the work was sexist but later changed her opinion.
Last year, an entry depicting the Virgin Mary in a burka and a hologram of Christ morphing into an image of Osama bin Laden drew harsh criticism from former Australian prime minister John Howard. He said the works were insulting and lacked artistic merit.
Rod Pattenden, chairman of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, said in a press release on the organization's website that he respects Allen's decision. But he added that the prize "embraces diversity in its entries and it is important to us that we remain open to the many styles through which artists engage with the subject area."
Cullen, a finalist in previous Blake competitions, said Allen overreacted by resigning from the panel of judges.
"The fact that he admitted he doesn't like my work shows that he's being subjective and close-minded and not academic at all," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's not ugly and it's not shocking. I don't see how anyone can be offended by such a familiar image as Christ on the cross."
Allen stood by his criticisms Wednesday and accused Cullen of fuelling the controversy to generate publicity.
Blake Prize organizers have appointed Nick Vickers, an Australian curator, to replace Allen.
The complete list of short-listed artists will be announced Aug. 11.
This year's prize winner will be announced Sept. 4.