A woman passing by the St Elizabeth church in Kassel, Hesse, early on Monday panicked when she saw a figure standing, arms stretched, on scaffolding built around the church's tower.
An 18-strong team of firemen arrived, ready to spring into action, local paper the Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine Zeitung reported. But what they found was not a person in need, but a life-size statue inside the frame of the modern church tower.
The figure was created by local sculptor Stephan Balkenhols, whose work is set to be exhibited in the church in early June.
The timing has caused conflict with organisers of the Documenta – one of Europe's biggest contemporary art events – who are filling the city with art installations at the same time. Balkenhols is not involved, leaving Documenta organisers furious, calling his move disrespectful.
“We expected more respect from the Catholic Church,” head of the event Bernd Leifeld said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“The artistic director feels threatened by the figure, and this type of art,” he said.
He added that the statue, which is meant to mirror the cross directly above it, would dominate installations in the Friedrichsplatz square below.
“It is exactly the opposite of what we want to present art as,” said Documenta artistic director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev who wanted visitors to the Documenta to tap into the idea of being a tiny part of the world's eco-system, according to local paper the Frankfurter Rundschau on Thursday.
But project manager of the Balkenholz exhibit disagreed, saying that “a large man on a tiny ball should represent hubris, not power.”
The Documenta kicks off on June 9 and the Balkenhols exhibition official begins around the same time. The artist intends on keeping the Jesus-esque figure standing on the church until September.