Andres Serrano

(b. 1950)

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(1950– )

American photographer, born in New York. His colour photographs have consistently aroused controversy on account of their themes. Piss Christ (1987) was one of a series involving various fluids. In this a crucifix was viewed through a golden veil of urine in which it had been placed. In 1989 a number of United States senators protested, not just at the work itself but at the use of public money, through the National Endowment for the Arts, to support it. In particular Serrano was attacked by Jesse Helms (1921–2008) from North Carolina, a politician with a long record of extreme conservatism. ‘I do not know’, he said, ‘Mr Andres Serrano…and I hope I never meet him. Because he is not an artist, he is a jerk’ (Congressional Record, 18 May 1989). Serrano is gay and Hispanic and Helms has frequently been accused of homophobia and racism. Interpretations other than the deliberate courting of offence and controversy are plausible. As critic Charles Darwent put it, ‘Finding not just beauty but propriety in the contents of your bladder must count as a triumph of love’ (The Independent, 14 October 2001). Serrano was brought up as a Catholic and has told an interviewer that he still has no problem with being considered a Christian. He is also a collector and admirer of Baroque religious artefacts. Following the ‘fluids’, Serrano made other series. In 1990 he exhibited Nomads, portraits of homeless people in New York, alongside imposing photographs of Ku Klux Klan members in their robes and masks.

Further Reading

C. Fusco, ‘Shooting the Klan: An interview with Andres Serrano’, High Performance (fall 1991)

Subjects: Art.

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