Poland unveils 'superhuman' John Paul II statue in Warsaw

By Agence France-Presse

An unusual sculpture depicting John Paul II holding up a meteorite has been unveiled in Warsaw – as an artistic response to a controversial statue showing a meteor striking down the late pope.

Jerzy Kalina’s installation outside the National Museum, titled Poisoned Source, shows the Polish pope holding the meteorite high over a pool of red water representing blood.

A statement on the museum’s website said: “In Kalina’s view, John Paul II is not a powerless old man crushed by a meteorite, but a titan of superhuman strength.”

The installation prompted swift online derision and criticism from art commentators on Thursday who said it reflects the ultra-Catholic outlook of Poland’s populist government.

One image shared on social media transforms the statue into a depiction of a plane passenger trying to put a suitcase into an overhead compartment, while another image showed people fleeing the advance of a giant version of the statue.

The Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan drew controversy in Poland for his wax statue shown at the 1999 Venice Biennale depicting Pope John Paul II – then living – being crushed by a meteor.

A sculpture by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan depicting Jean Paul II being crushed by a meterorite.
A sculpture by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan depicting Jean Paul II being crushed by a meteor. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty

When the sculpture, titled La Nona Ora, was exhibited at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 2000, two lawmakers tried to remove the rock and stand the statue upright, according to media reports. The head of the museum was forced to resign.

Kalina’s statue is intended to mark the 100th anniversary of John Paul II’s birth.

The museum said: “The artist himself perceives the pope as a man who played a decisive role in the recent history of Poland and Europe and set in motion a process of historical, social and spiritual transformation.”

While he is also still widely revered in Poland for his role in helping to inspire the anti-communist movement, the pope’s handling of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church has increasingly come under scrutiny.