Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Immersion (Piss Christ)

Immersion (Piss Christ)
Andres Serrano 1987

In 1987, New York artist Andres Serrano placed a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and artfully lit and photographed it as part of series of photographs he made of religious objects submerged in fluids such as milk and blood. The exhibition of the pictures in 1988, specifically, the Immersion (Piss Christ) photo led to a heated debate in the Senate about the public funding of the Arts. Senator Jesse Helms went as far as to become an art critic, saying of Serrano, "He's not an artist, he's a jerk."
Serrano defended the concept of the photos as a criticism of the "billion dollar Christ for profit industry" and as "a condemnation of those who abuse the teachings of Christ for their own ignoble ends."
The photo of course, only gained power from the controversy and became a powerful icon and an expensive piece of art. It made Serrano's career.
There was an attempted incident of vandalism in New York by a priest in the gallery it was first exhibited in and it was vandalized in Australia and by neo Nazis in Sweden in 2007.
The work has been shown in France several times with out incident and was presently being exhibited in Avignon by Yvon Lambert, a dealer who put together a show called, I Believe In Miracles for the last 4 months. The show is scheduled to finish next month.
France, of course is supposed to be a laic state. The Catholic Church has been stripped of it's property since 1905. France has had a long and violent history of religious racism and violence. Supposedly, we were over that.
Until recently, when Nicolas Sarkozy started to play the religion card to court the far right. The far right is traditionally conservative Catholic and was the backbone of Vichy France. The extreme right party, The Front National, which until lately had been discredited and losing membership has become newly energized by linking the issues of the economy and immigration under their new leader, Marine LePen, the daughter of the founder, Jean-Marie LePen. The Front National's base is fervently professed fundamentalist Catholic.
As the fortunes of the UMP, Sarkozy's party, faltered, he is presently the least popular president in the history of the 5th Republic, Sarkozy, the ever imaginative manipulative campaigner has exploited racism and religion to court the far right conservatives that he his party was losing.
He tried to sponsor a failed "debate" on Laicity, which even his party had to disown as they were promoting it. Most of France does not want to go there. The leaders of every major religion in France denounced it. Even though, at the same time, France passed the most restrictive ban the public display of head coverings and the burka in Europe. The laws are being contested as counter to the EU Constitution now.
But passing an unworkable and unconstitutional law never stopped Nicolas. He is playing to the grandstand, the racists hooting in the balcony of his political theater. The results? The empowerment and legitimization of the sentiments long banished to the dark shadows. Racist commentators and politicians now openly justify their statements by saying, "I'm just saying what everyone is thinking." Of course, as we have seen in America, people don't think about something until they are told it's okay to think it.
So last weekend ago, Piss Christ was destroyed in an act of vandalism after a campaign led by the far right archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz and public demonstrations organized by the far right Catholic Group, Civitas.
After a few weeks of threats, the gallery hired guards, but on Palm Sunday, 4 youths entered the gallery and in a violent scuffle, they managed to slash and smash the picture.
The Gallery director, Eric Mezil, said they would continue the exhibition with the destroyed work on display, "so people can see what barbarians can do."
In a statement, he said the movement against Piss Christ had started at the time of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party's controversial debate on religion and secularism in France. At a record low in the polls before next year's presidential election, Sarkozy has been accused of using anti-Muslim and extreme-right rhetoric to appeal to voters and counter the rise of the Front National.
Asked by the daily Libération why the Piss Christ protest had happened now, Mézil pointed to Sarkozy's speech in March lauding "the Christian heritage of France" at Puy-en-Velay, where the first Crusades were preached.
He said: "Clearly we saw in Saturday's demonstration that a Catholic fringe wanted to take the president at his word, with extremely violent appeals." He said there was a climate of tension, with protesters insulting museum staff of north African origin. One guard said he heard: "I'm going to pour donkey piss on the Qur'an." An email to the museum talked about "plunging the diary of Anne Frank in urine".
In earlier posts, we discussed what is art. Clearly, this is a powerful piece that fulfills any definition of art. More importantly, it can be physically destroyed, but it is a conceptual piece that can be easily recreated by the artist. This act of destruction, perhaps was just as important as it's creation, wouldn't you think?

1 comment:

darkblack said...

A Piss Christ in every home!

I'll chip in to buy Andres a six-pack of Lucky Lager.