Andres Serrano: The Photographer Who Pissed on Christ

Best known for his loud statements and lewd photographs, New York City’s Andres Serrano is arguably one of the most influential artists of the 21st Century. His photographs expose and explore the nature of humanity while celebrating the certain extremities that challenge our social norms. Taking in everything within his environment without compromising or corrupting the truth has awarded Serrano an artistic identity all his own. Much like the city that cultivated his love for art, Serrano is a “melting-pot”. The product of rich Hispanic roots and an implant of devout Catholic upbringings bestows an artistically destined Serrano with the internal lens to capture the condemned, misunderstood and the over looked with decisive dignity. Raising questions about identity, culture and politics from the heart of an outsider.  Andres Serrano’s refusal to conform has made him infamous, but respected in the art world and an icon. 

A plastic cross, immersed Serrano’s bodily fluid, beautifully presented in a serene 60 x 40in Cibachrome photographic print would alter the art community and sentiments of society regarding the arts entirely. Serrano’s most notorious body of work Bodily Fluids and Immersions features the image of Piss Christ included in the 1989 Visual Arts endowed by Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts presentation, sponsored by NEA. Proving to be a truly compelling piece as his artistic endeavors and contribution to the newly formulated conception of “shock art” awarded him funding for his works through the U.S. Government. Though none of the works from Bodily Fluids were intended to question the relevance of religion, the church and other conservatives quickly waged war against Serrano and his photograph of the glowing plastic Christ. Not only did Piss Christ find itself under fire from Catholic Church, but also the photograph soon brought Serrano into the forefront of a culture war that would bring the creative freedom of artists into question.

 Serrano like many artists through the 80’s and the 90’s was and is the target of a manifestation of fears. Fear that religion can be penetrated by the transcending thoughts available through art that manifest in the psyche evolving cultural and spiritual thought. Brought up under the Catholic Church Andres had the opportunity to realize the damage within the connection between worship and the divine. Piss Christ should have incited believers and non-believers bringing them closer to His last moments on earth. Jesus had been subjected to humiliation, urination by naysayers during his crucifixion or simply expelled human bowels on Himself. Maybe it is this exact idea of Christ being victim to his human form that looks as if it questions the divine aspect of God. Serrano’s creation only meant to repair the balance of power he experienced throughout his life. Serrano’s observation of the Catholic Church or religion as realized through Piss Christ may be obscene but it is his vision and his experience. Just as the preacher on a local street corner has the right to confront and ask questions about faith to anyone who passes his stoop, so should Serrano have the right to convey his message even if it appears to have fault. Unlike the direct words of the street preacher Serrano’s strategically photographed works contain no specific words to direct the receivers thoughts or perception around the work. Updating the trappings of institutionalized art and organized religion allowing the audience to inset meaning for themselves.

There are no simple classifications by which one can categorize the significant work Serrano’s artistry has imprinted on American culture or the art world itself. You either accept his vision or you don’t. His unapologetic attitude over the controversy, and criticisms that parade around his photographic contribution’s has paved the way for contemporary photographers, outspoken artists that have and will come to follow. Serrano, much like his photographs, is alluring and "unprecedented”. In reflecting on Heath Ledgers role as the Joker in the Dark Knight 2008 Serrano compares his artistic spirit to the chaotic nature of the misunderstood villain declaring, “I would say that I’m one of them too, a true anarchist just doesn’t give a fu*k”.

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