Andres Serrano (born 1950); Piss Christ;

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Lot 11
Andres Serrano
(born 1950)
Piss Christ

US$ 80,000 - 120,000
£ 59,000 - 88,000

Photographs

2 Oct 2019, 14:00 EDT

New York

Andres Serrano (born 1950)
Piss Christ, 1987
Dye-bleach print, flush-mounted on board and flush-mounted to Plexiglas, signed, titled, dated and numbered '6/10' in ink on the flush-mount verso.
40 x 27 1/2in (101.1 x 69.8cm); artist's frame

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    With Stux Gallery, New York, acquired by the present owner in 1989

    Literature
    Kuspit, "Objects and Bodies: Ten Artists in Search of Interiority," Awards in the Visual Arts 7, Winston-Salem, 1988, p. 115; Johnson, "Storm Over 'Art' Photo of Christ," The New York Post, May 12, 1989, p. 6; Atkins, "Stream of Conscience," The Village Voice, May 30, 1989, vol. 34, no. 22, pp. 87-88;
    Finnegan, "Bearing the Cross: An Interview with Andres Serrano," Contemporanea, no. 22, November 1990, pp. 32-35; Denson, "John Miller and Andres Serrano, 'Bad Boy' Sublimation", Contemporanea, no. 22, November 1990, pp. 37-41; Bolton, Culture Wars: Documents from the Recent Controversies in the Arts, New York, 1992, p. 309; Wallis, Andres Serrano: Body and Soul, New York, 1995, n.p.; Serrano, A History of Sex, Milan, 1998, p. 5; Wallis, Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America, New York, 1999; Hanson, ed., Andres Serrano: "America" and other work, Cologne, 2004, n.p.

    Piss Christ, Andres Serrano's 1987 image of a plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of urine, is one of the most influential yet controversial images of all time.
    Serrano submitted the photograph for a competition Awards in the Visual Arts, organized by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Ten artists from ten US regions, Serrano among them, were awarded a prize of $15,000 and a traveling exhibition, funded by the Equitable Life Assurance Company, The Rockefeller Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organization and, most importantly given the furor that followed, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), funded by tax payers and bestowed by Federal Government.
    The first sign of trouble came when the exhibition was on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. A local resident complained about the work in a letter to a local newspaper and this was noticed by Bill Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, a right-wing Christian fundamentalist organization. Wildmon petitioned Congress to denounce and defund the NEA, a demand staunchly supported by Republican Senators Alphonse d'Amato and Jesse Helms. The episode marked the beginning of the so-called "Culture Wars" in the US, a series of skirmishes between left and right that has continued virtually unabated ever since. Artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe's 1989 show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, also funded by the NEA, was cancelled due to right-wing pressure. As recently as 2010, David Wojnarowicz's film of Christ on the cross being slowly consumed by ants at The National Gallery of Art in DC was also discontinued due to the outrage it engendered. Occasionally, some of these battles were won by artists and institutions; Chris Ofili's dung-encrusted painting The Holy Virgin Mary, which had its American début in 1999 as part of the Sensation traveling exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum, incited then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to freeze city funding to the Museum and threaten eviction from its longstanding home near Prospect Park. However, the Museum counter-sued New York City for violating its First Amendment rights and won the case unequivocally.
    In various interviews, Serrano has said that when he made Piss Christ he had no intention of creating something so controversial - that Piss Christ was always both a work of art and an act of devotion. Serrano is a practicing Catholic, who as a child was told by the nuns who taught him that it was wrong to idolize representations of Christ since they merely described sacred scenes and were not actually holy in themselves. Serrano considers Piss Christ a comment on this paradox, making him neither a "blasphemer" nor an "anti-Christian", as his accusers would attest. He also believes that the work has ignited some useful and timely debate on what the crucifixion scene, which has become almost a meaningless visual cliché, really symbolizes - the horrific and prolonged death of Jesus Christ in unimaginably brutal circumstances.
    Serrano stands by Piss Christ as both an artist and a Christian. He also supports the notion that all opinions about the work - whether for or against it - should be embraced and that artists and art institutions must be free to create and exhibit whatever they wish without fear of reprisals or hostile government intervention.
    Serrano continued this legacy of "sedition" in his very recent, 2019 installation, The Game: All Things Trump, an ironic portrait (described as a "post Duchamp "readymade"), of the current US president created from thousands of Trump artifacts collected together by the artist.
    These are volatile and thought-provoking times, in which Piss Christ seems more relevant than ever to the debate of what constitutes great art. Bonhams is pleased, therefore, to have the opportunity to offer Serrano's masterpiece in this sale. This print is one from an edition of only 10 and was purchased by the current owner from Stux Gallery (Serrano's original dealer) in New York City in 1989.
Contacts
Andres Serrano (born 1950); Piss Christ;
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