Monday, September 29, 2008

Serrano’s (not so) Humble Investigative Triumph

Self Portrait by Andres Serrano

In some circles Andres Serrano is more known for offending religious groups and politicians or fueling the visual direction of a heavy metal/trash band than he is for being a ’serious’ artist. One could say that the controversy over his Piss Christ (1987) placed him on the art world map as well as the cultural map of the United States. The artist has photographed several works involving his utilization of blood, semen, and human milk. Serrano’s work made an impact throughout the 1990s-- though the positive and negative implications of that impact-- concerning public opinion of the art world and culture-- can be debated. For example, his past work-- involving semen and blood-- was featured on two album covers by heavy metal / thrash band Metallica-- a choice that received both praise and condemnation by fans and critics at the time. Since those years Serrano has found a new direction with his work… his own feces.

According to a recent interview with New York Magazine it took Andres Serrano twenty years to discover that his own feces was a viable medium for expressive purposes. He went on to say that he was “done with piss” twenty years ago. In the interview Serrano hinted that he has pushed feces further than it has ever been pushed before by an artist-- including Piero Manzoni . In fact, Serrano mentions that the character Borat is more of an influence to his fecal work than Manzoni. Andres Serrano considers his new body of work to be a “serious investigation” of the matter .
Serrano has went on to proclaim that he is “wise” for exploring feces as a medium and that other artists will envy his decision to explore that aspect of bodily waste in the way that he has. Oddly enough, my years as a mental health worker inform me that certain individuals have explored the creative capacity of feces as a form of expression much longer than Serrano has with his recent work and possibly before Manzoni’s Merda d'Artista (1961). That is not to suggest that Andres Serrano suffers from mental illness nor is it meant to suggest that Piero Manzoni suffered from mental illness… though psychologically I would say that Serrano-- just like Manzoni before him-- is very anal about his art.

It should be mentioned that Andres Serrano avoids digital manipulation within the context of his work-- so technically what you see is what you get, so to speak. His large prints are produced by conventional photographic techniques. While Serrano is most known for exploring bodily fluids he has also photographed images from morgues, burn victims, hate group members, the homeless, and “kinky’ portraits of couples. However, with his work involving urine-- including Piss Christ-- Serrano achieved widespread fame and infamy.
Serrano has long been a prime target for those who support the idea of a culture war in the United States and has been celebrated by strong supporters of artistic freedom. These responses are due to Piss Christ and the controversy that is still relevant today concerning the piece and its social implications. Thus, I think it is safe to say that Andres Serrano will be known more for his use of urine than for his use of feces-- regardless of how 'wise' or revolutionary he considers himself. Sorry Serrano.

On a side note, after hearing Metallica’s latest release, Death Magnetic, I think one of Serrano’s current images would have been an appropriate album cover. What can I say… I like Metallica’s pre-Load tracks. Sorry Metallica.

What are your thoughts about Andres Serrano and his art? Do you think that Piss Christ played a major role in the negative opinions that some people have concerning the art world? Do you consider Serrano to be an artist? Should supporters of artistic freedom give their support to artists like Serrano? Or is Serrano exploiting their good intentions? Feel free to comment with your thoughts.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Again depends on how you define art. There are many forms of it, as there are music. Some serious, some silly, some practical, some decorative. But his fit none of them, unless you are an anarcist, or desperate to make money. His are rather single, and simple, minded and looking to get a reaction. He is a shock jock of the visual world. He can go hang with Stern and the long haired racist fool, they are his breathren.

Far below the best comentators of life around us, as Swift and Voltaire began that tradition. Comedy. The Daily Show and Colbert and SouthPark reveal human failings far better than his singular messages, which are all about him, in more ways than one. Number two actually. Everything is just what it is, no interweaving connections, no ballance, no layering of meaning. Its just shit. Marketing shit.

The days of decadence are over. A new world for artists is opening, some will return to the source and once again find meaning in art, others will continue in the current ways of self glorfication. So be it. Who wins will help determine mans outcome, for we visualize life around us. Time to stop feeding the desires of the rich, and time to explore the needs of humanity.


Anonymous said...

you mean this guy hasn't faded into obscurity yet? the only thing his dumbass piss christ did was irritate a few peopel and make life hell for the rest of us.

Balhatain said...

Donald, Piero Manzoni made a statement about the art world of his time by canning feces. So one could say that he was pointing out decadence by making a mockery of it. In the case of Serrano he appears to think that his use of feces is the 'new art'.

Anon, oddly enough I do know that Serrano has been mentioned in books concerning the risk of falling into obscurity after causing high profile controversy. Obviously it has not kept him down.

Unfortunately, it has blocked some of his other works from being well known. When you say his name most people automatically think of Piss Christ. I doubt that will change anytime soon. It is ironic that the piece that made him famous is the same piece that will most likely shadow his entire career.

Anonymous said...

It took him 20 arduous years to discover his own shit as an art medium. Watch out, Windsor Newton.

Burnt Umber Rules!!!

Anonymous said...

Seems kinda raw to me, Raw Serrano?

Anonymous said...

Oh yes.

Art collegia delenda est.

Anonymous said...

It used to be that scoundrels were thrown into prison. Now they're exalted as "artists."