• Sale 1999

    Post -War And Contemporary Art Afternoon Session

    14 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 411

    Andres Serrano (b. 1950)

    Piss Christ

    Price Realised  

    Andres Serrano (b. 1950)
    Piss Christ
    Cibachrome print face-mounted on Plexiglas
    40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76 cm.)
    Executed in 1987. This work is number four from an edition of ten.


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    "The Piss Christ in glowing blood: the whole irreducible point of the faith, God thrown to human waste, submerged and shining" (OEM: A Weekly Poem, Piss Christ: Andreas Serrano, 1987, read by the author Andrew Hudgins, April 19, 2000).

    Piss Christ was first shown at the Stux Gallery in New York and was then included in "Awards in the Visual Arts 7," organized by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in North Carolina in 1989. This show was organized by a juried committee including Marcia Tucker, Director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, who selected Serrano for inclusion. The National Endowment for the Arts partially sponsored the show. Serrano received $15,000 from the NEA for his work. This exhibit traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Carnegie-Mellon University Art Gallery without criticism.

    When the photograph was shown at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond, Methodist Minister Reverend Wildmon started a campaign to bring Serrano down. He had started the National Federation for Decency in 1977 (renamed the American Family Association in 1987) and was most well known for chastising Pepsi for its sponsorship of Madonna's video in which crosses are burned.

    He sent letters of protest, along with Serrano's photograph, to every member of Congress. Within several months, Serrano found himself in the middle of a moral showdown with the Christian Right and United States Senators Al D'Amato and Jesse Helms. On May 18, 1989, D'Amato ripped up a copy of Piss Christ in the chambers of the U.S. Senate in response to Congress and the Supreme Court's ruling that the NEA must take "into consideration general standards of decency" in giving grants. D'Amato's gesture cemented Piss Christ's mythic status, making it a representation of the excesses of liberalism.

    Serrano's legacy paved the way for many contemporary artists working today, among them, Chris Ofili. Ofili created a scandalous uproar when he exhibited the Holy Virgin Mary (1996) with elephant dung in The Brooklyn Museum of Art's 1999 Sensation exhibition.

    On the surface, Serrano has created a seductively beautiful, luminous image of Christ. Under the surface, the work relates to works by Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley and Kiki Smith that celebrate bodily fluids as an expression of creativity, societal taboo and veneration. Serrano explores the taboos that keep humans from examining their anatomy, mortality and faith. Serrano's work demands objectivity from the viewer. By confronting institutional societal values of decency and moral standards, Andres Serrano stands for artistic conviction and freedom of expression. Piss Christ embodies a moment in art history that touches us deeply about the conflict between institutional orthodox conformity and objective freedom of expression as well as elemental human truths of life and death.

    Provenance

    Stux Gallery, New York


    Literature

    D. Kuspit, "Objects and Bodies: Ten Artists in Search of Interiority," Awards in the Visual Arts, Winston-Salem, p. 13.
    R. Johnson, "Storm Over 'Art' Photo of Christ", The New York Post, May 12, 1989, p. 6.
    R. Atkins, "Stream of Conscience," The Village Voice, May 30, 1989, vol. 34, no. 22, pp. 87-88 (illustrated).
    P. Finnegan, "Bearing the Cross: An Interview with Andres Serrano," Contemporanea, No. 22, November 1990, pp. 32-35.
    G. R. Denson, "John Miller and Andres Serrano. 'Bad Boy' Sublimination", Contemporanea, No. 22, November 1990, pp. 37-41.
    E. Heartney, "Andres Serrano: Challenging Complacency," Latin American Art, Winter 1990, pp. 37-39 (illustrated).
    B. Wallis, Andres Serrano: Body and Soul, New York, 1995 (illustrated).
    A. Serrano, A History of Sex, Milano, 1998, p. 6 (illustrated).
    U. Grosenick and B. Riemschneider, Art at the Turn of the Millenium, Cologne, 1999, p. 461 (illustrated).
    B. Wallis, Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America, New York, 1999 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Winston Salem, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University Art Gallery; and Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Awards in the Visual Arts 7, May 1988-January 1989, p. 115 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
    Warsaw, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle; Ljubljana, Moderna Galerija Ljubljana; Bregenz, Magazin 4 Vorarlberger Kunstverein; Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania; New York, The New Museum of Contemporary Art; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts; Houston, Contemporary Art Museum; and Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Andres Serrano Works 1983-1993, January 1994-February 1996, p. 63 (illustrated, another example exhibited).
    The Netherlands, Groninger Museum, A History of Andres Serrano: A History of Sex, February-May 1997, p. 20 (illustrated; another print exhibited).