Hundreds gather, protest art exhibit

SANTA FE (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered at the state Museum of International Folk Art Saturday for the latest protest against a display that includes a digital collage portraying the Virgin of Guadalupe wearing a flowery bikini.

The museum’s Committee on Sensitive Materials has recommended that the show close in October — four months early. However, opponents say that’s not soon enough.

Speakers at the rally called collage creator Alma Lopez, a pseudo-artist and called for boycotts of the museum.

A chemical engineer from St. Louis, said he traveled all day Friday to attend the rally. Steve Lee said the Our Lady collage ‘‘bothers my conscience.’’

America Needs Fatima, a campaign by a conservative Roman Catholic group called American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, sponsored the rally.

Society vice president Thomas McKenna read a letter from an East Coast bishop who called the state museum’s decision to display Our Lady an ‘‘example of how little faith they possess to style themselves as our nation’s cultural elite. How tasteless of the unfeeling rich to mock the devout poor.’’

The only counter-protester at the morning rally was Rusty Rutherford, who wore a floral bra over his shirt.

‘‘For me, it’s strictly a First Amendment issue,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not religious and I’m not gay.’’Lopez’s collage is part of the exhibit ‘‘Cyber Arte: Traditional Meets Technology,’’ said she thinks the committee’s recommendation to close the exhibit four months early is fair.

‘‘I believe that the museum really tried to hear what the community had to say and who is protesting, to let them know that they are being heard,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘This closing early is really much more of this ’OK, we are hearing you and we’re understanding that you have this view.’ It’s really the good heart of the museum to compromise.’’

The Rev. Bill Sanchez, formerly of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Santa Fe, criticized the presentation of Lopez’s piece in an exhibit room that resembles a chapel.

‘‘Whoever did this exhibit knew how we worshipped, and, on purpose, denigrated our Catholic faith.’’

Sanchez suggested the Archdiocese of Santa Fe remove its art and property kept in the state’s Museum of New Mexico system unless the targeted work comes down.‘‘They say they’re Catholic,’’ he said.

‘‘They’re like the vegetarian burrito beef eaters, . . . picking beef from their teeth.’’