Thomas Monahan

Fine Art

Andres Serrano

​Andres Serrano (born August 15, 1950) is an American photographer and artist who has become notorious through his photos of corpses and his use of feces and bodily fluids in his work, notably his controversial work "Piss Christ", a red-tinged photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass container of what was purported to be the artist's own urine.

Serrano's work as a photographer tends toward relatively large prints of about 20 by 30 inches (51 by 76 cm), which are produced by conventional photographic techniques (as opposed to digital manipulation). He has shot a vast array of subject matter including portraits of Klansmen, morgue photos, and pictures of burn victims. He went into the New York subways with lights and photographic background paper to portray the bedraggled homeless, as well as producing some rather tender but sometimes decidedly kinky portraits of couples. One of these last shows what Adrian Searle of The Guardian described as "a young couple, she with a strap-on dildo, he with a mildly expectant expression."

Many of Serrano's pictures involve bodily fluids. Most famous of these is "Piss Christ" (1987), a photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine. This caused great controversy when first exhibited. Serrano, alongside other artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, became a figure whom Senator Jesse Helms, and Senator Alfonse D'Amato, as well as other cultural conservatives, attacked for producing offensive art while others, including The New York Times, defended him in the name of artistic freedom. (See the American "culture wars" of the 1990s).

Serrano's series "Objects of Desire", from the early 1990s, features close-ups of firearms, photographed at the Slidell, Louisiana home of artist Blake Nelson Boyd. Included is a shot, against a glowing orange background, down the barrel of a loaded .45 revolver (belonging to Boyd's grandfather) that was used by Jonas Mekas for the cover of the April–May–June 2007 Anthology Film Archives catalog.

The most famous and notorious of Serrano's work plays on the relationship between beautiful imagery and vulgar materials, his subject matter often drawing from the potentially controversial and, perhaps, the willfully provocative. Critical reception has been mixed over the years. In a 1989 New York Times review, critic Michael Brenson responded to Serrano's series of Cibachrome photographs of iconic objects submerged in bodily fluids: "You cannot consider the content of Mr. Serrano's work without considering his attitude toward photography. It is the photograph that breaks through convention, that makes the search possible and that enables the artist to sort out what he likes and does not like in religion and art. It is the photograph that becomes the vessel of transformation and revelation. The photograph then becomes an icon that, for Mr. Serrano, replaces the false icons in his work. The photograph is clean and purified, the reliquary or shrine in which he clearly believes that the word about the body can be stored and spread."

Reviewing later work in 2001, Guardian art critic Adrian Searle was not impressed: he found that Serrano's photos were "far more about being lurid than anything else... In the end, the show is all surface, and looking for hidden depths does no good." Continuing his use of biological matter, more recent work of Serrano's uses feces as a medium.

A selection of works