PUBLIC EXHIBITION OPENS: SEPTEMBER 28
AUCTION DATE: OCTOBER 2
New York – Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, 1987, one of the artist’s most striking photographs will be on offer at Bonhams sale of Photographs on October 2 (estimate: $80,000-120,000). Piss Christ, an image of a plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of urine, one from the original edition of only 10, was purchased by the current owner from Stux Gallery, Serrano's first dealer, in New York City in 1989. Serrano is most recently recognized for his installation, The Game: All Things Trump, an ironic portrait of the current US president created from thousands of Trump artifacts collected by the artist.
Laura Paterson, Bonhams Director of Photographs, commented: “Serrano’s Piss Christ is one of the most influential yet controversial images of all time. It has raised all sorts of pertinent questions about the role of religion in contemporary art.”
Serrano submitted Piss Christ 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 each 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.
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. Wildmon petitioned Congress to denounce and defund the NEA, a demand staunchly supported by Republican Senators Alphonse d'Amato and Jesse Helms. The dispute sparked the subsequent so-called “Culture Wars” between government, artists and art institutions.
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 claim.
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 - 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.
Piss Christ will be on display in Bonhams Madison Avenue window at the end of September until the sale on October 2.