Street artist Banksy's latest work was unveiled in Liverpool this morning (December 15). Cardinal Sin is a bust with its face sawn off and replaced by blank tiles. It was created in response to the child abuse scandals in the Catholic church. It features bathroom wall tiles placed over a priest’s face – the effect is of a pixelated pornographic or criminal photofit image.
The sculpture was unveiled at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where it resides alongside 17th Century religious art. In a playful bid to maximise publicity for the new work the gallery sent out a press release headed: "Walker uncovers Banky’s mutilated head”.
Commenting on the work Banksy said, "I'm never sure who deserves to be put on a pedestal or crushed under one. I love everything about the Walker Gallery - the Old Masters, the contemporary art, the rude girl in the cafe. And when I found out Mr Walker built it with beer money it became my favourite gallery.
"The statue? I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year it's easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity - the lies, the corruption, the abuse."
The replica 18th Century bust is now in a room with an altarpiece painted for the Archbishop of Seville by the Spanish artist Murillo in 1673 and Rubens' painting The Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the Child Baptist.
Reyahn King, director of art galleries at National Museums Liverpool, says that Banksy expressly specified that the sculpture be shown alongside the gallery's period collection. "The sculpture very clearly contains a message. When you look at it and see the tiles that have been applied to the sawn-off face, you immediately get the impression of those pixelated images of suspected criminals you see on screen or in a newspaper photograph.”
King added that she hoped that the work would inspire visitors to look at the other paintings in the gallery and search for the less obvious messages artists tend to leave within their work. "We have always shown controversial art and have works of art that were considered very controversial in their time. It's part of an artistic tradition to show art that challenges people," she added.
It’s only the second time Banksy has created work for a gallery. The first was at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 2009. Cardinal Sin has been loaned indefinitely by the artist to the Walker gallery.