The Guardian reports that an extremist Christian group has attacked a print of artist Andres Serrano’s infamous photograph “Piss Christ” (1987), smashing an acrylic plastic barrier around the piece and slashing the print itself with a “screwdriver or ice pick” (WTF). This follows previous attacks on the same photograph in 1997 and 2007.
On display at the Lambert Collection Contemporary Art Museum, the private collection of art dealer Yvon Lambert, in Avignon, France, Serrano’s print had already sparked a conflict when the archbishop of Vaucluse Jean-Pierre Cattenoz “called [Serrano's] work “odious” and said he wanted “this trash” taken off the gallery walls.” Odds are Cattenoz found it offensive on a religious basis, since the photo depicts a crucifixion figure submerged in a yellow tank of the artist’s own urine.
Apparently a fringe group took the archbishop’s statement to heart, threatening guards and going at the piece with abandon, destroying it as well another (inoffensive-sounding) photo.
The Guardian writes,
Just after 11am on Sunday, four people in sunglasses entered the gallery where the exhibition was being held. One took a hammer from his sock and threatened security staff. A guard restrained one man but the remaining members of the group managed to smash an acrylic screen and slash the photograph with what police believe was a screwdriver or ice pick. They then destroyed another photograph, of nuns’ hands in prayer.
Okay, first question: how do you confuse a screwdriver and an ice pick? Was it a really tiny ice pick? Or a monstrous screwdriver with an axe on the end? Also, the attacker was hiding a hammer in his sock. How does that work? This also sounds like a weird take off on a Men in Black raid, with four guys in sunglasses working in concert. This is one weird art attack.
But then it’s not exactly a surprising one. The “Piss Christ” photo has drawn controversy since its making in 1987, when partial funding by the NEA drew ire from infamous US senator Jesse Helms. Another print of the photo, which is an edition of 10, was destroyed in Australia in 1997, when a duo of young boys distracted guards by kicking a photo of the Ku Klux Klan while the other troublemaker “smashed “Piss Christ” about 8 times with a hammer.” The hammer seems to be a common tactic. Would-be iconoclasts, take note. The Guardian also notes that “neo-Nazis ransacked a show by the artist in Sweden in 2007.”
So hasn’t this gotten a little tired as a subject of protest? I mean the thing’s already 24 years old, and 2 prints out of 10 have already been destroyed. Are art serial killers going to hunt down the entire edition of 10 and kill them all, making sure there are none left to be offensive? I think by this point Andres Serrano needs to enter a witness protection program and get a new identity, artistic and otherwise.
There’s no word yet on if the print is salvageable, or if another print will be made to replace this one. It certainly looks down for the count with a screwdriver (or ice pick) slash across near the top of the photo. Be sure to stay tuned for the next time “Piss Christ” gets smashed.
Check out a close-up of the attacked print from Reuters. This leads me to ask, will the attacked print be like Duchamp’s “Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors” and become a new piece of art with the broken glass? It almost looks like a halo.