Serrano’s attacked print in Avignon; the original “Piss Christ” (1987) (image via

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.

Andres Serrano, “Madonna and Child II” (1989) (image via

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.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

12 replies on “Serrano’s “Piss Christ” Smashed With Hammer (Again)”

  1. You’re confusing ‘ice pick’ with ‘pickaxe.’ An icepick (such as, for example, Trotsky was killed with) is the same general size and shape as a screwdriver.

  2. Odious and trash can only be considered high praise when coming from an archbishop. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

  3. So, what more offensive: making a gorgeous image of the crucifixion that happens to get its amber-like glow from bodily fluids? Or smashing the face of Jesus with a hammer/screwdriver/icepick?

  4. I don’t understand why they have to destroy the painting! I am not a fan of the painting itself but destroying it that way is kinda extreme. Anyway, I just want to share a very nice (and I bet no one would want to destroy them), positive and happy art over at The Art of Happiness Art Gallery. Awesome paintings and sculptures, awesome artists!

    1. I actually found your ‘happy art’ profoundly depressing. I’d want to destroy it purely on the grounds of not being very good. Even more so because you used the vacuous term of ‘awesome’ to describe it.

  5. Yeah, if only Serrano’s work were better in the first place. Sometimes somewhat beautiful… but always seemingly pretty vapid.

  6. Weren’t they only prints… reproducible prints?
    I bet this controversy is exactly what Serrano likes. So perhaps it’s a good thing for him?

    1. Yes, they are reproducible of course… but not easily replaceable, as I guarantee much like any other artwork.. if yours gets destroyed, you don’t get a new one for free. Also, yes, Serrano very much likes the controversy over his images. Sadly the controversy seems to be the only real content of his work, and given that he claims to be a practicing catholic the content as far as blasphemy is dubious at best.

  7. Your use of the word “infamous” to describe Serrano’s work skews the perspective on his work in favor of the weak minded zealots and their actions, dismissing the blatant fact that a work of art can’t actually hurt them. The work is famous — it is known all over the world by look and reputation. Prefixing it with in means you have classed the work as negative in and of itself. Way to go.

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