Polarizing artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat offer a visceral take on the Eucharist. Rather than juice and wafers, here’s a punching bag.
In the 1983 art collaboration of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Ten Punching Bags art installation includes ten Jesus-painted punching bags with foul language bearing the repeated word “JUDGE.” This Thursday of Mysteries of Holy Week, I invite you into an artful meditation of Jesus—our beloved Passover punching bag.
Artful multiplicity opens us to account for Jesus with a fresh lens. We see Andy Warhol and Jon Michel-Basquiat two artists marry their distinct languages and styles in Ten Punching Bags. Warhol characteristically applies celebrity Jesus on the irreverence of a punching bag. Jon Michel-Basquiat distinctively references Leonardo Da Vinci’s Jesus in The Last Supper (1495-1498). Could these artists be highlighting a moment in the life of Jesus at the Last Supper for today’s audience?
They seem to invite us to judge a Jesus moment: Jesus’ refusal to withhold himself (his Eucharist, his body) from his enemy. He takes the 1, 2, punch over his last meal with friends.
How’s that for judgment?
The Passover Punching Bag
Historically the church observes two moments on Thursday as part of Holy Week leading up to the resurrection: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and introducing the Eucharist at The Last Supper. As Jesus and his closest twelve men observe the Jewish Passover, the scriptures tell us Jesus knew his betrayer’s identity. Nevertheless, Jesus washes his betrayer’s feet with the rest of his beloved friends:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.
He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:1-5
Jesus knew Judas had misjudged his messiah. Nevertheless, Jesus takes Judas’ conspiring feet into his hands and washes them. Jesus breaks bread (his body) into hands soon to trade silver for the living Eucharist himself.
He invites his followers to break the bread, to engage with his body with unmistakable directness. Therefore, He presents himself as their meal and their servant-cleansing foot bath.
Poised To Punch
Known as a celebrity exploiter, Andy Warhol offers Jesus to be judged with the violence of our fists. Warhol positions us as the abuser. One word commands us to judge Jesus. On each Jesus-punching bag is the word “judge,” making “the verb (noun?) unmistakable, but it’s sketchy what or who is doing the judging” (Lissa Brennan, Pittsburgh City Paper). Perhaps, somewhere in the subtext, we can observe Warhol’s play. The infamous exploiting artist turns the table on us—who are we to judge this man? Or, what kind of man passes judgment on his betrayer with a meal of atonement?
10 Punching Bags
Regardless of intent, Ten Punching Bags begs the significance of ten. And whether or not these two artists allude to the biblical significance of ten, humor me for ten.
As it turns out, “The Passover lamb was to be sacrificed on the 10th day of the first month (Ex 12:3) which was symbolic of the true Passover Lamb” (Patheos). On Passover, two artists show us the nature of this judge—a judge who takes on punishment. John the Baptist prophesied the Messiah’s choice: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The judge wears the identity of a lamb.
Jesus’ ancestors observed their first Passover in Genesis, and God consequently punished Egypt for refusing to release His beloved people. Ten plagues reflected the completeness of God’s judgment, and a future lamb would take on such complete judgment. In real time Jesus would serve himself as humanity’s Passover lamb.
With each Jesus-covered punching bag, we can imagine Jesus atoning for every broken covenant commandment.
Who is this man who would break bread with us? The only one who could take the punch.