Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Piss Christ

with 23 comments

In the recent days, there have been a lot of back and forth over Freedom of Speech, especially in the United States. Personally speaking, a lot of these debates falls into “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” category. One of the literally shining examples of this is the above photo by the  shock artist Andres Serrano. The 1987 photo shows a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of  what was purportedly the artist’s urine. (Without Serrano’s insistence that it was his urine, the viewer would not probably be able to differentiate between urine and amber or polyurethane).

Although Serrano himself has not revealed a lot about the motives behind his photo series (which also included submerging various other classical statuary in various fluids — blood, milk, urine, sperm), he noted that while this work is not intended to denounce religion, it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of icons in contemporary culture. Although some praised the work as mysterious, ethereal and beautiful, all the hell broke loose when it was discovered that Serrano received a grant from taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts.

I realize this post is going to be controversial; this photo has been sitting in my draftbox for months and I know I eventually have to post it in order to be true to modi operandi of my site — which is to post any photo, famous or infamous, and frame it from a fairly objective standpoint. A photo’s inclusion does not automatically reflect its iconicity or importance.  But the last straw to post this photo came when I saw a news report while vacationing in the U.S. a few weeks ago — one of the talking heads was arguing that the Muslims should not be angered at the Mohammedan cartoons in Denmark and South Park because Christians were very tolerant during Piss Christ, etcetra etcetra. I said to myself, that’s bulls**t. Not unlike those cartoonists,  Andres Serrano was harassed and did receive hate mail and death threats. Even gallery owners and museum curators who displayed the work received death threats.  The photo itself was vandalized several times.

Freedoms of speech and expressions are fundamental rights still alien to billions of people around the world. But it is unfortunate that those freedoms are sometimes abused by a handful, and the entire society is subsequently judged by the actions of craziest of its loons — whether they be suicide bombers, book-burning ideologues or Christ-blaspheming iconoclasts. (Serrano went on to put together another controversial exhibition, a literal shit show, which included 66 pictures of poop, generated by 66 different creatures — from jaguars to bulls to the artist himself.)

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 21, 2010 at 12:46 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with ,

23 Responses

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  1. Thank you for posting this! I never knew about this.

    I find all of your posts to be VERY educational, and always look forward to reading the backstories. Keep it up!


    September 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

  2. “But it is unfortunate that those freedoms are sometimes abused by a handful, and the entire society is subsequently judged by the actions of craziest of its loons — whether they be suicide bombers, book-burning ideologues or Christ-blaspheming iconoclasts.”

    I most definitely do not agree that Andres Serrano abused his freedom of speech nor that he is a loon and to include him in the same category as suicide bombers and book-burners is shameful and dangerous. I may hate a lot of his work but that doesn’t mean that it is without merit. It urges you to confront your own notions of what is sacred. And it may be blasphemous to a Christian but to an Atheist, Buddhist, or Jew, that is not an issue.

    In contrast, there is nothing of worth at all in regard to bombers or burners. They don’t want you to think at all; they just want you to obey the narrow rules that they follow when relating to the world around you.


    September 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm

  3. I think the Jesus thing is way overdone. Right now we’ve got a Cape Town artist who’s also doing the Jesus thing in some lame permutation or another. I’m agnostic but do I kinda find it annoying that it’s those emotions that the artist is trying to provoke. My thing is that unless they’re the ones making crap, leave the religious okes alone.
    If it’s the first photo of that type then it is iconic. Otherwise it’s just another lame attempt to anger people.


    September 21, 2010 at 6:08 pm

  4. And yet Andres Serrano still lives. Theo Van Gogh – not so much. That’s a telling detail, I think.

    rick mcginnis

    September 21, 2010 at 11:42 pm

  5. Exactly how is alleged blasphemy equivalent to suicide bombing?

    It is a far loonier act to vandalise a picture or comic strip, or threaten the artist/museum curator/newspaper editor than to take a picture or draw a comic. The loons in each case were the morons who chose to overreact and threaten (or commit) violence.


    September 22, 2010 at 1:40 am

  6. First – thank you for a great site! I find myself checking frequently and learning something quite often.
    As to this post…as a Christian, I worship a God who is Spirit, I don’t worship statues or icons. In fact, it is sadder for me to see the human body abused than for me to see this. Is it “sacrilegious?” Perhaps. Is it worthy of “blasphemy?” No. In fact, you can do anything you’d like to a statue or Bible or other artifact that represents my beliefs and all I will feel is sorrow for you and your hatred and loathing of your Creator. You can not and will not destroy my faith. God loves Andres Serrano, he just doesn’t recognize it.
    This is what frustrates me about Islam and the Koran (and ‘fundy’ Christians and the Bible). Do they worship Allah or a book? Why can’t they separate the two? Or, for that matter, Patriotism and the flag.
    I can tolerate all sorts of ‘free speech.’ Just don’t ask me to accept it or pay for it (i.e.: NEA)

    Mark Dickinson

    September 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm

  7. rickmcginnis: you took the words out of my mouth!


    September 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm

  8. Another difference between the “death threats” against Andres Serrano: How many of them came from respected and revered Christian religious leaders?

    There are nut-cases in every walk of life. The difference is whether those nut cases speak for the overall community or whether they are outliers.

    In that context, I think the differences between Christian cultures and Islamic cultures is stark and comparing the two on that basis is disingenuous.


    September 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

  9. Cartoonist Molly Norris currently is in hiding because Muslim clerics issued a fatwa calling for her murder.

    Filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by Muslims, who shot him eight times and pinned a note to his chest with a knife.

    Poseurs like Andres Serrano deliberately offend Christians precisely because they know they are safe in doing so. He can preen as the brave artist all the while secure in the knowledge that no Baptist is going to put a bullet in his heart and a knife in his chest.

    Some courage. (And all the while producing his, er, “art” on the dime of the people he spits upon.)

    So you find an equivalence in the response of Christians and Muslims? Would you care to stake your own life on it? DIdn’t think so.


    September 23, 2010 at 2:54 am

    • @mh Um – Christians aren’t always known for their peace and love. Ask George Tiller. Ask victims of cinemas bombed for showing `The Last Temptation of Christ’ or theatres bombed for showing `Jesus Christ Superstar’ in its early years.


      October 4, 2010 at 6:04 am

      • Great moral relativism…your a genius…..now go live in any muslim hell hole as a non muslim and draw a funny picture of muhammed and then get back to me about how Christians are just as bad….bloody lunatic!!


        June 29, 2012 at 4:58 am

  10. I find this less offensive than somebody wearing a large gold or silver cross around their necks.

    Frankly the whole wearing/worshiping a dead guy on a cross seems a bit morbid to me.

    P. Lopez

    September 23, 2010 at 6:35 am

  11. It is an arrogant way of dealing with things that matter to so many people.

    And everywhere there are lots of secondary people who bow to arrogance.


    September 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm

  12. People get so uptight when you make fun of their zombie death-cult.


    September 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm

  13. […] for the fun part: Well, it is plastic crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine. [Here is the entire […]

  14. Hey no problem . Let’s put up some doodles of Muhammed . No problem . Right ?
    MM your sarcasm is rather flat . Do you just pick on Christians ?
    mh well done


    September 24, 2010 at 3:18 am

  15. […] in that summer of 1989, media circus over Piss Christ poisoned the political atmosphere. Unlike Piss Christ and its creator, the Corcoran, the CAC or […]

  16. I would love to see those ‘brave’ liberal artists do a picture of muhammed in piss??? Oh yeah…that’s right…they won’t because they are gutless cowards…..such is the left!


    June 29, 2012 at 4:57 am

  17. […] September 21, 2012, at 3:00 pm As a show of their religious tolerance, a NYC gallery will display Andres Serrano’s 1989 "Piss Christ", and for some reason the gallery will be beefing up security… The controversial “Piss Christ” […]

  18. […] a NYC gallery will display Andres Serrano’s 1989 "Piss Christ" https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/20…1/piss-christ/ and for some reason the gallery will be beefing up security… The controversial “Piss […]

  19. […] reveal to me some part of this country that is still held firmly by religion. Something like the Piss Christ would definitely and greatly offend their conservative Christian sensibilities. I, on the other […]

  20. […] photographs by shock artist Andre Serano, whose famous and infamous religious objects submerged in human body fluid floated through my brain…the most controversial-though undeniably very beautiful – […]

  21. […] những vật dụng tôn giáo điển hình hoặc nhỏ nhặt nhưng đều chìm ngập trong lưu chất cơ thể người. Lơ lửng trong đầu tôi…  là nó đấy, thứ gây tranh cãi nhất cho dù đẹp […]

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