The controversial “Piss Christ” artwork Sen. Alfonse D’Amato once branded as a “deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity,” is coming to New York, and security is being heavily ramped- up at the gallery that will show the piece.
Andres Serrano’s work — a “photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine” — first ignited controversy in 1989 when D’Amato complained to the US Senate that it was an “outrage,” an “indignity” and a “piece of trash” that had been funded by taxpayers. Serrano had won a $15,000 prize for his work, backed in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. But the piece — which will be on display as part of a retrospective of the New York artist’s work at Edward Tyler Nahem gallery beginning Thursday — is still causing controversy over two decades later.
On Palm Sunday last year, 1,000 protesters marched outside a French gallery showing “Piss Christ,” and the piece was attacked by hammer-toting vandals while gallery workers received death threats. The piece — there are 10 prints — has also been vandalized at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia and in Sweden.
But Serrano told us he’s not expecting trouble in his hometown of New York. “It’s not going to receive the same attention,” he said, adding that the French attack “destroyed” the piece, but, “It transformed ‘Piss Christ’ into something else. It’s mounted on plexiglass, and it looked like they’d attacked Christ. The marks were all around the face.”
A rep for the Midtown gallery confirmed it was beefing up security in anticipation of protests, but wouldn’t elaborate further.
Serrano is working on a book of 400 photographs recently shot in Cuba, where his mother was born. “It’s about time we talked about Cuba,” he said, calling the US embargo “horrendous.”
He adds, the situation around NEA funding that “Piss Christ” ignited “never got better . . . the budget of the NEA was slashed in half. There seems to be a sort of dislike for the arts, and for the government supporting the arts. It’s not right.