Can Art Still Shock? A Photograph That Lives in Infamy
It’s only been a few hours since The New York Post reported that “Piss Christ,” the infamous photograph by Andres Serrano showing a crucifix submerged in urine, will go on view in New York next week, and already some critics are trying to stage a rerun of 1989.
Back then, Senator Alfonse D’Amato, Republican of New York, denounced the photograph on the floor of the Senate as “a deplorable, despicable piece of vulgarity” before ripping up a reproduction and throwing the pieces on the ground. This time around, the Catholic League has announced plans to picket the exhibit, while a Republican congressman has charged President Obama with “religious hypocrisy” for failing to speak out against the exhibit even as he denounces the anti-Islam video that has sparked deadly riots across the Muslim world.
Andres Serrano with a print of his photograph ‘Piss Christ’ after it was vandalized in Australia in 1997.
Senator D’Amato’s denunciation occurred during a debate over federal financing for “offensive” art, which largely ended in 1994, when the National Endowment for the Arts stopped giving grants to individual artists. But since then Mr. Serrano’s most famous work (part of a series showing various religious icons soaked with blood, milk and other bodily fluids) has continued to attract physical assaults.