Controversial Jesus Photograph Slashed in Gallery

21/04/11 | Posted by MattPage

One of the most controversial art works about Jesus has been vandalised by Christian protesters whilst on display in a gallery in France. The attack took place the day after a protest march by hundreds of French Catholic fundamentalists complaining about the work's inclusion at the Musée d'art Contemporain in Avignon. There has been tension in the city ever since the "I Believe in Miracles" exhibition began, with online petitions, criticisms of the piece by the Archbishop of Vaucluse and tens of thousands of emails objecting to the exhibition.


The piece in question is a photograph by American artist Andres Serrano. At first glance it seems inoffensive enough. There’s a crucifix bathed in gentle amber light. It has a calming, tranquil feel about it. Such feelings change however when you read the piece’s title: “Piss Christ”. The beauty that you had been admiring turns to revulsion. You’ve been starring at a plastic crucifix dunked in a vat of urine.

It’s easy to see why such revelation can lead to offence and protest, even if it’s harder to comprehend the violence and vandalism. On the surface the photograph looks like a direct affront, a vile and calculated attack on the person of Jesus. But I can’t help wondering if there is a little more to it than that.

Serrano was brought up a Catholic and it’s possible to read the work in different ways. After all it’s not Jesus himself that is doused in urine, but a plastic crucifix. The significance of such a distinction may not seem immediately apparent. After all the crucifix is a symbol not only of Jesus, but his world-saving death. Serrano’s objection is not about Jesus and his death, but the way that the church has, at times, cheapened and commercialised his sacrifice. It’s a plastic crucifix - cheaply-made, mass-produced, churned out of a factory for profit. Put that way, far from being an offence to God, it almost sounds vaguely reminiscent of Jesus’ purging of the temple.

Serano himself has identified his piece as a critique of the “billion-dollar Christ-for-profit industry”. In other words it is saying ‘I piss on your tame, plastic commercialised Jesus; on the way that you’ve taken Jesus’ ultimate expression of love and turned it into a tacky trinket. And if that is his intention then it seems to me that it’s something to be supported rather than destroyed.

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I was living in the States when this photograph was first unveiled in California, to similar protest. I think about 20 years ago.

My understanding is that there is human blood mixed with the urine, so the photograph could be a powerful statement about Jesus on the cross being immersed in all human filth and detritus. The photo is shocking, but then the cross is meant to be shocking.

#1. By Andrew Wooding on April 26, 2011

I wonder if Andres Serrano would try attacking Islam with Muhammad in this same manner?

#2. By Ken on September 14, 2012

What Serano has done for me through this piece of art is to draw from my inner most being a cry of anguish and pain im sure not unlike the ones at the foot of the cross 2000+years ago.If it all did serano realize his work brought into sharper focus the sadistic,violent nature with which man crucified his God without an iota of guilt or shame.But i guess serano will never know.

#3. By Madonna Francis on April 24, 2013




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