'Unacceptable And Disrespectful': Marc Jacobs Causes Unholy Row With Crystal Virgin Mary

An Australian artist has been picked up by global fashion brand Marc Jacobs, but his sculptures of Mary have hit a nerve with religious groups who say the imagery is "unacceptable and disrespectful."

The American brand announced earlier this week that a series of one-of-a-kind artworks by sculptor Kyle Montgomery would be available for purchase at its flagship New York City store.

The sculptures, of which there are 15, blend antique religious figurines of the Virgin Mary with crystal.

"By fusing religious iconography and semi-precious stones, he literally and figuratively chips away at the rigidity of coded belief, resulting in a transcendence of traditional spirituality and faith," the brand explained on Instagram.

Marc Jacobs is known for championing other artists through his own brand, in the past teaming up with contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and, more recently, Australian creator Ava Nirui.

While many of the brand's fans were excited about the collaboration and a chance to purchase the artworks, countless others were not on board.

"I find this very inappropriate to cover this up with black crystals. I would like to see her face and not have it covered," read one comment.

"This is so unacceptable and disrespectful," said another.

"You could design bags, shoes, accessories...but not religious sculptures or objects," one user pointed out.

Image: Kyle Montgomery / @killdie Instagram

The Australian Christian Lobby is highly critical of the statues.

“Artwork that obliterates the face of the mother of Jesus, with crystals, is deeply disrespectful to the Christian faith," Dan Flynn, Chief Political Officer for the Australian Christian Lobby, told 10 daily in a statement.

"Sincere Christians do not want to see an image of the mother of Jesus distorted in this way.”

Montgomery says his work combines traditional Catholicism with new-age spiritual practices and healing.

Speaking to Vogue Australia, the artist explained the statues were a product of his own personal religious experience.

"I grew up Catholic and admired the Virgin Mary for what I saw in her, which was that she was the mother of the earth," he said.

"To me, she is the guardian of all, and the strongest and most powerful woman to have ever lived. When I started learning more about new-age religions, crystals, meditation, and positive intentions, I decided to morph the two into one object.

Montgomery said the sculptures represent all of the powers that he "idolized and needs" in his life.

Image: Kyle Montgomery / @killdie Instagram

Reverend Doctor Vicky Balabanski, a senior lecturer in the Flinders University Department of Theology, said while there plenty of material in the Old Testament about not creating idols or religious images to worship, she doesn't think these statues say "worship me".

"You're touching on a very dearly held part of people's spiritual lives, and if it sounds like you're disrespecting, then people will respond," she told 10 daily.

The artist Montgomery has been creating similar pieces since at least 2012.

"I think if it were in a gallery with other artistic work, I think we would see it differently, but when it's associated with big fashion and big money and consumerism, I think that may be what makes a difference in how people perceive it."

10 daily has reached out to Kyle Montgomery for comment.

Controversial depictions of religious figures in art is nothing new.

A photograph by American artist Andres Serrano, which depicted a miniature crucifix in a cup of the artist's own urine, sparked such furor that in 1997 the Archbishop of Melbourne took it all the way to the Supreme Court.

George Pell --  who is now the Catholic Church's most senior official to be convicted of child sexual abuse -- tried to invoke the obscure law of blasphemy to stop Piss Christ from being displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Andres Serrano's work was partially destroyed by two catholic activists in France in 2011. Image: Getty

Pell failed, but after just a few days on display the work was ripped from the wall and kicked by one man, and attacked with a hammer by a teenager just a day after.

More recently, Griffith University Art Museum came under fire for displaying Juan Davila's Holy Family, which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling a giant penis.