Piss Christ (Immersions), 1987
Hello! A few years ago I saw a documentary about the use of crucifixes in art. They talked about a work of art called ‘Piss Christ‘ from the American artist Andres Serrano. A lot of people were very angry because they thought Piss Christ was an insult to Christianity, so the picture was vandalized. I didn’t really know what to think of it, but it was certainly an image that stayed in my head. When I saw a poster of a new exhibition in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, I knew I had to see it! A retrospective about the work of Andres Serrano opened this week and it seems to attract a lot of people. I participated in a ‘Meet the artist’ event with a group of people. We had a guided tour by the artist himself, and I must say he’s a very nice person! Are you ready to meet him?
Who is Andres Serrano?
People say his art is very controversial so I kind of thought he would have typical star behavior, but I’m glad that wasn’t the case. He might look a bit eccentric, but he is very kind and really took the time to talk about his life and work. Andres Serrano was born in Brooklyn en he still lives in New York today. He told us that he never knew what it meant to be ‘normal’. He always felt a bit different and he’s more interested in people that are considered as ‘not normal’ in our society, like homeless people for example. He is a christian and religion is very important for him. It’s a part of his identity.
About his work
There are a few themes that always come back in his artwork: bodily fluids (blood, semen), death, Christianity, sexuality, racial or cultural subjects, torture and what I would call ‘outsiders’. These are not the most easy things to talk about, but I guess that is why he chose them. Although the expo is called ‘Uncensored photographs’, he never intended to make provocative art. He just wants to show us something without judgment. It is what it is. Like ‘Piss Christ’ for example, it is piss and Christ, two of his favorite topics. There is no other explanation. Art critics wrote a lot about the symbolic meaning of Piss Christ, but it’s all just interpretation. Serrano repeats that it is simply piss and Christ. If people really want an explanation, he would say that Christ has suffered a lot on his cross. When people die, they lose body fluids, and it was no different for Christ.
Red Pope I, II, III (Immersions), 1990
The Pope and blood. Serrano has a lot of respect for the Pope. He would really like to meet him in person, because he wants the Pope to recognize him as a good christian. He told us that in America he is hated by a lot of religious people. He has a lot of shows in Europe, but in the US his work is considered to be too controversial so there are very few museums that show his work. If the Pope would recognize him as a christian, that would be a strong sign to the people who hate him. Again, he isn’t looking for provocation, it would really mean a lot to him.
Semen & Blood III (Bodily Fluids), 1990
Metallica asked him if they could use this picture for their album cover and that’s something he is very proud of. Next to this picture there were 2 pieces he made in 1989 where he photographed his own semen when ejaculating. You only see a white fluid on a black background, but you can imagine it was a funny moment when he tried to explain to us how he took the pictures 🙂 .
Racial or cultural subjects
Juana Rios Rios, “Juana de Cubana”, Fortune Teller (Cuba), 2012
Serrano explains that the only reason he makes photographs of racial themes, is because he is hispanic himself (his mother is Cuban). He also made portraits of real members of the Ku Klux Klan with their masks on. Again, it’s not about provocation. He just shows who they are without judgment. Yes they are different and some would consider them as ‘not normal’, but the artist doesn’t find himself ‘normal’ either.
The Fisting (History of Sex), 1996
A few pieces of the History of Sex series that were exposed in a museum in Sweden in 2007 were vandalized by neo-Nazis. One of them filmed everything and put in on Youtube. Serrano decided to show the video next to the vandalized works of art in Brussels.
Hacked to Death II (The Morgue), 1992
In his series ‘The Morgue’ he shows details of people who have died. Photographing dead people is a delicate thing. That’s why he only shows details and not the full face. Although the cause of death in this picture is horrible (as the title says) and there is a lot of blood, I can also feel the beauty of it and not just the horror. What I mean is that I can feel that there is no intention to shock people, it just shows a part of human nature.
Untitled X-1, X-2, X-3 (Torture), 2015
Serrano visited several torture museums and concentration camps to make this series. It’s a difficult subject that he tried to approach from de point of view of both the torturer and the victim. All his pictures are of course staged.
Fragment from ‘Sign of the Times’, 2013
As I said in the introduction, Serrano likes to work with people who are considered outsiders in society. He asked homeless people in New York if he could buy their signs. The text on the signs is often very confronting and true. The last sign on the wall says: IF IT WAS YOU…?
Ahmed Osoble (Denizens of Brussels), 2015
I started this article with Piss Christ, because I knew it would grab your attention (and because it’s an important work in his oeuvre). But actually, what I will remember most about Serrano’s work are his portraits of homeless people. I used to work as a social worker in Brussels, so I do feel a connection with these pictures. He always asked people first if he could take a picture and then they would pose. He always paid them, because posing is working. If you want to see how he interacted with them, there is a short video on the museum website that is worth watching. The Denizens of Brussels series are also exposed in Recyclart (close to Gare Centrale) and the entrance is free.
The expo is open until 21/08/2016. Standard tickets (without reduction) cost €14,50 and I think it’s absolutely worth paying it! Just keep in mind that a lot of people want to see this exhibition, so come early and buy tickets online.
Wow, this became my longest article so far 🙂 ! I hope you liked it.