Piss Christ (interpretation, introspection)
“I pee so much when I drink.” This seemed an appropriate topic of conversation, as I segued from telling Elliot that my next blog was going to be about Piss Christ. “This one time – ah nevermind. I shouldn’t tell you about that.”
“What?” Elliot asked.
Now I had to say it. “Well now I have to say it,” I said. “One time when I was at my family’s cabin in Maine – it’s in the middle of nowhere and they have an outhouse – I filled up a 32 ounce styrofoam cup with pee throughout the course of the night because I was afraid to go outside. I emptied it in the outhouse the next morning.”
If I were Andres Serrano, I may have used this container of waste for artistic purposes. In 1987, Serrano placed a small plastic crucifix in a glass of his own urine and photographed it. The result was a beautiful piece entitled Piss Christ. Obviously, there was great controversy over the photo. The debates escalated when the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Serrano $15,000 of the taxpayers’ money for the piece.
“I do not know Mr. Andres Serrano, and I hope I never meet him,” Senator Jesse Helms said in response to Piss Christ. “Because he is not an artist, he is a jerk.”
However, Serrano also had many supporters. Sister Wendy Beckett, a Catholic nun and art critic born in 1930, spoke about Piss Christ in a television interview with Bill Moyers.
“Were you not offended when you looked at Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ? Didn’t you find that denigrating of the simple figure of your faith?” Moyers asked her.
“Well actually, no,” Sister Wendy replied. “Because I thought he was saying, in a rather simplistic magazine-y type of way, that this is what we are doing to Christ. We’re not treating him with reverence. His great sacrifice is not used. We live very vulgar lives. We put Christ in a bottle of urine.
“It’s what you make of it,” she continued, “and I could make something that made me feel a deep desire to reference the death of Christ more by this suggestion. This is what in practice the world is doing.”
Art is about interpretation and introspection. What one finds in a photograph, a painting, a song, or a film is a reflection of oneself. The people who consistently find a sinister and hateful meaning in everything conventionally ugly or offensive frighten me.
“I have always felt that my work is religious, not sacrilegious,” Serrano once stated. “I would say that there are many individuals in the Church who appreciate it and who do not have a problem with it. The best place for Piss Christ is in a church. In fact, I recently had a show in Marseilles in an actual church that also functions as an exhibition space, and the work looked great there. I think if the Vatican is smart, someday they’ll collect my work.”
Piss Christ, photograph by Andres Serrano