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 Andres Serrano  (1950 - )

/ se-RAH-noh/
About: Andres Serrano


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: conceptual-photographic

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Ad Code: 3
Andres Serrano "Piss Christ"
Andres Serrano "Piss Christ" Cibachrome print, face-mounted Size 40 x 29.9 in. / 101.6 x 76 cm. Year 1987 Christie's New York: Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Andres Serrano became known in 1989 as a result of a "cultural and political scandal when his work "Piss Christ" of 1987 caused a heated debate in the United States about the freedom of art and its state financing." "Piss Christ" was a color photograph of a Christ figure submerged in a glass of urine.

"Art at the Turn of the Millenium"

Biography from
The only son of an Honduran immigrant father and a mother of Afro-Cuban origin, Andres Serrano was born in New York and spent most of his childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.  Like his family, his predominantly Italian-American neighbors were devoutly Catholic, and religion played a significant part in his growing up - in school, at home and on the streets.  When Serrano was still a young boy, his father left the family to return to Honduras. Raised by a mother who spoke little English, and who was often hospitalized by frequent bouts of psychosis, he was forced to fend for himself from an early age.

After an initial school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, young Serrano began to return to the museum on his own and became enamored with Renaissance painting, in particular its religious iconography.  At the age of 15, he dropped out of high school with the ambition of becoming an artist and from 1967-1969 he attended the Brooklyn Museum of Art School.  Unfortunately his art practice was delayed for several years after he became caught up with drugs and the harsh street life of New York's urban poor.

At the age of 28, Serrano gave up drugs and began working in various straight jobs.  These included a stint as an assistant art director at an advertising firm, and while he enjoyed the work, he still wished to pursue an art career full-time. Attracted to painting and sculpture yet insecure about his technical abilities, he focused on photography, with which he had become familiar in his position as art director.  From the beginning Serrano thought of himself as an artist using photography, and not as a photographer per se, the distinction being that he was not interested in documenting 'reality', but in creating his own.

Influenced by the pre-war European art movements of Surrealism and Dada, the first images Serrano created (back in 1983) were tableaux incorporating religious iconography, dead animals, raw meat and human subjects, amongst other elements.  More than any other, blood was the constant element tying these images together.  A symbol for passion and violence, it became the ideal vehicle to convey Serrano's preoccupation with the sacrificial dramas of spiritual, political and sexual practices, and the ecstatic links between them.  References to great artists from Rembrandt to Mondrian, and to various cultural forms of memento mori, were also persistent themes that would recur throughout Serrano's oeuvre.

Subsequently, Serrano decided to use blood not just as content, but as form, resulting in images that were more reductive and abstract than his earlier works. Along with blood, the artist began using urine, milk, and later semen, as the raw materials for his work, producing two overlapping series - Body Fluids and Immersions from 1985-90 - which were to prove far more provocative than he ever intended.  In a 1989 congressional session, New York State Senator Alfonse D'Amato tore up a reproduction of one of the images from Immersions - the now infamous photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine, titled Piss Christ.

The action sparked a public debate over the National Endowment for the Arts' funding of 'obscene' art, and for better or worse the ensuing notoriety catapulted Serrano to worldwide fame.  In fact, Serrano conceived many of the images from both series as monochromatic studies in light and color value.  For example, the first photograph in the series, Milk Blood, 1984, explicitly referenced the geometric abstraction of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.

After the media furor over Piss Christ, Serrano turned to the genre of portraiture, creating several thematic bodies of work, each depicting various social groups. The first of these was Nomads, 1990, a series of pictures of homeless individuals whom Serrano found on the streets and, in several cases, photographed inside his studio.  The sense of dignity captured in these portraits together with their obvious orchestration came to signify a style Serrano would refine in later works such as his Budapest Series, 1992, and the opulent images of A History of Sex, 1997.

In other works, portraits of Ku Klux Klan members photographed in their own milieu (Klan Series, 1990) and dead bodies mutilated or in the process of decay (Morgue, 1992) confront viewers with more discomforting images of violence and death.  Still, even these retain a certain seductive quality.  Drawing from the lexicon of advertising, fashion and even pornography, Serrano's large-format, highly saturated photographs aestheticize their subject matter, even when this is abject in nature.  Like the images produced by his peers Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe, Serrano's works often take on an iconic status, and are some of the most arresting images in contemporary photography.

Artist's Statement:
In the fall of 1997 I was approached by Laurie Fierstein, a bodybuilder and writer, about an exhibition of women bodybuilders she was co-curating for The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.  I said I was interested in participating and Laurie provided me with my first models, Tazzie Colomb and Yolanda Hughes.  After that, I continued photographing several more bodybuilders, including seven women who competed in 'The 10th Annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic'.  My interest in these women is one of curiosity and amazement.  I pay tribute to them, much like the Greeks who admired the male physique in search of an aesthetic ideal.

I am also fascinated by the notions of 'masculinity and femininity' and 'power and sex' these women embody and dispel.  To some, these pictures are intriguing, to others threatening.  Ultimately, they reveal as much about our attitudes to sex and gender as they do about the women themselves.

Andres Serrano
May 1999

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