Dick Detzner’s 2001 painting series Corporate Sacrilege received worldwide coverage and attention upon its release and showing at Chicago’s Athenaeum Museum, but the outrage, curiosity, and pleased acceptance of his theme is not new to his artwork using explicitly religious themes. Cosimo Cavallaro‘s 2007 life sized chocolate sculpture of a crucified Christ and Andres Serrano’s 1989 Piss Christ are just two examples which reveal the antipathy large portions of pop culture have against religious iconography or explicitly religious material being treated outside the auspices of institutional religions’ control. However, Detzner’s work is dissimilar from other artistic treatments of religion in his use of pop cultural artifacts, icons, and as Detzner calls corporate ‘branding’ or design—identities. Detzner’s Corporate Sacrilege is not the product of an artist who is unexposed to or ignorant of religious motifs, beliefs, and the gravity surrounding religions’ representations. A graduate of Notre Dame, Detzner’s work necessitates a close examination with consideration and withheld judgment. He writes on his website, “When I conceived this series of paintings, I had to carefully weigh the value of the point I wanted to make against the likelihood that some people would be offended. My main target is dogma, and the uncritical acceptance, and even abuse of, religious doctrine.”[1] Showing himself to be a thoughtful and intentional artist, Detzner’s religious work transcends ‘shock art’ and uncritical or kneejerk reaction to his work may miss possibilities for positive cultural and theological retrievals.

            Detzner’s use of corporate ‘identities’ to replace Da Vinci’s human forms around the table of Jesus’ last supper in his painting The Last Pancake Breakfast is clearly a form of poaching, and as with much great art, the use to which he puts his poaching is ambiguous. Poaching, or the commandeering of pop culture artifacts for novel and surprising purposes can be used to the extremes of ‘ecotage’ and criminal computer hacking, but even in its lesser forms it gives cause for reflection, can speak to power prophetically, and destabilizes norms. The poaching involved in The Last Pancake Breakfast utilizes in its tableau iconic American breakfast identities each of whom are the image and spirit of a corporation. The participant/interpreter of the work is called to reflect upon the themes of food, what it is to be ‘corporate’, kitch art being domestic, what is sacred and how America decides what is inviolable. This essay will examine only a few thoughts inspired by Detzner’s piece for the sake of brevity and space.

            Pancake Breakfast through a queer critique can explode ideas of the strict delineation of sacred and profane. Images that many Americans can identify as being overtly religious may never be venerated by an individual, but merely be granted a pious deference. Corporate brand identities that sit before the bleary-eyes of young people at a breakfast table however, may have their faces reflected upon, interacted with via the internet (sillyrabbit.millsberry.com, ricekrispies.com/Playground_Fling.aspx) and the backs of cereal boxes, quoted, and trusted with one’s life. The trust that is implicit in ingesting a product and which is in large part secured and maintained through corporate identity is a powerful force in American consumer habits and is only rarely made explicit with product recalls such as the peanut industry in 2008-9. The values of health, enjoyment, fulfillment, trust, hope, and adventure are all present in many of the breakfast identities in Detzner’s work. These values and the emotions conjured by identities can be not too dissimilar from those of strictly religious iconography. Pancake Breakfast is thoroughly open to queering because of its blurring of the rigid lines of how value, veneration, trust, worship, and family life can or cannot be considered sacred.

            The piece also works as a prophetic voice to American Christian traditions. In the sense of Beaudoin’s sensus infidelium, there is wisdom and what could be arguably considered a divine critique on American popular culture and contemporary Christianity. In context of the Biblical last supper where Jesus institutes a new interpretation of Passover meal that can be seen as a passing of authority, a ritualizing of memory, and a celebration of community, Detzner’s piece sheds a powerful light. Seated centrally is Mrs. Butterworth, her yellow cap creating a halo effect, and appears to be welcoming her guests to partake in a meal that consists of herself; she is an animated syrup bottle, her core or essence the syrup that has been poured out for many. Closest to her in the place of John the beloved disciple is Aunt Jemima, and the rest of the company are characters representative of home breakfast products. The tragic scene is one imagining the loss of church communal meals, the Sunday pancake breakfast in the cold church basement, replaced by quick and easy breakfasts to be served within the confines of the nuclear family in the privacy of their kitchens. The church stands under a prophetic critique by an image which provokes the question of church communities: “when did you have your last pancake breakfast?”

            The connection to kitsch art is apparent in the scene also. Many American homes have adopted intentionally various corporate identity décor. Coca-Cola, Ford, and as in my childhood home Minneapolis’ own Gold Medal Flour can make their appearances in signs, trinkets, dining wear, and affiliate the home with the identity and values of the corporation. Taking kitsch art seriously as an expression of the feminine, and as hegemony has disparagingly located it in the home, Pancake Breakfast can give inroads to examining the role of women in religious art, and the role of the domestic in American pop culture. Mrs. Butterworth appears in a 1984 television commercial with the tagline “Behind every great breakfast, is a great woman!” which can call one’s attention to the domestic division of labor. Da Vinci’s Last Supper devoid of female presence, participates in the washing of the feminine from the Jesus narrative and from the ritual of communitas. Detzner may be calling attention to the Divine Feminine or who are providing the majority of American youth with their breakfasts each day. Looking again at the living experiences of women who have been granted the artificially gendered sphere of the kitchen as powerful institutions of instilling value and theology may be a critique on gender panicked dogmas. Detzner writes, “Religions need to be examined to see which parts are worthy of respect, and which parts aren’t…religious groups that use the Bible to discriminate against women, and gays, and people of other religions, have no authority when that same Bible endorses slavery, and stoning, and gang rape.”[2]