Andres Serrano, “Immersion (Piss Christ),” 1987
This may very well be the most controversial photograph of all time. It has even been credited with single-handedly destroying public funding of the arts in the United States.
Aesthetically, it is beautiful, an image of a crucifix surrounded by a red-amber glow. Its subject matter, however, is much less pleasing. Serrano had submerged a crucifix in a jar of his own urine and photographed. Unsurprisingly, there was a tremendous backlash against the artist for this piece, primarily from Christian groups.
Some members of the clergy have viewed the piece in a positive light, however. One nun, for example, viewed it as a statement on what modern society has done to the image and ideals Christ represented.
In later interviews, Serrano has stated that he intended the piece to be a statement on the grotesque nature of crucifixes themselves. It is, after all, an image of a man beaten, broken, and dying nailed to a cross. The fact that we are not horrified when viewing such an image does Jesus a disservice, he feels. By dousing it in urine, he hoped to elicit the disgusted reaction one would normally have to such an image.
Prints of this photograph have been repeatedly attacked in galleries and museums by vandals hoping to remove it from the public’s eye. This is the worst possible thing for someone to do who hopes to destroy the piece, however. It is a photograph, which means it can be reproduced, and attacking it only serves to bring it back into media attention once more.
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