Andres Serrano

(1950) American


Born in New York City, Andres Serrano attended the Brooklyn Museum of Art School from 1967-69, and is self-taught in photography. He gained widespread notoriety in the late 1980s when his work was deemed obscene by conservatives and thus sparked a controversy about federal funding of the arts. In 1988, Serrano's photograph Piss Christ, which depicts a plastic crucifix submerged in the artist's urine, was included in a group exhibit at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, an institution partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The subsequent crusade against the NEA was led by Senator Jesse Helms, who called the work of Serrano "immoral trash."
Piss Christ typifies much of Serrano's work in its use of shocking and confrontational subject matter, and in its literal corporeal material. Serrano has used his own bodily fluids in many of his photographs, submerging Christian and other symbols, and at times variously combining blood, urine, sperm, and milk, all evocative and symbolic essential fluids. Serrano was raised Catholic, and this formative experience seems to drive his explorations of the intimate relationship between the sacred and the profane. He has executed series of images of homeless people (or nomads as he titles their portraits), members of the Ku Klux Klan, members of the Catholic clergy, guns, and an extended series on dead bodies in the city morgue. Serrano seeks to portray the most compelling subject matter in a technically polished manner that eliminates extraneous elements. He frames central objects and scenarios, and renders them in lush color.
Serrano has had numerous individual exhibitions internationally, and has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts. He has been the subject of several monographs, including one accompanying a retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia--the other institution targeted by the Senate in 1989--and most recently A History of Andres Serrano: A History of Sex (1997).
Lisa Soccio
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 227.
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