Andres Serrano, by jane dávila

I came across an article in New York magazine about a show that Andres Serrano, a controversial New York artist, recently had in Sweden (October 2007).
Still from YouTube video

The exhibition, called the History of Sex, was vandalized with crowbars and axes by a group of Neo-Nazis who disapproved of the sexually explicit subject matter. Read the NY Times account here.

The vandals destroyed 7 of the 14 photos on display and videotaped themselves doing this. They then posted the video to YouTube (it’s since been removed).

Andres Serrano, Klansman

Serrano asked the gallery to leave the vandalized photographs on display as a commentary on reaction to controversial art. The gallery declined and removed them.

Andres Serrano, Church of Sainte Clothilde

Do you agree with Serrano that the “modified” photos still stood as works of art, albeit with a message other than that intended by the artist? Should the gallery have displayed them alongside the remaining, undamaged photos? Do you believe that this would have opened a dialogue with the public about the nature of controversial art or would it have encouraged future vandals?

Do you think, as some in the art world have suggested, that the video of the destruction itself (shot by the vandals) became an artistic expression of dissent and is its own work of art?

NB: Neither of the photos above are from the exhibition. Google will provide you with quite a few images if you’re interested.

6 Responses to “Andres Serrano, by jane dávila”

  1. 1 heather December 25, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    well it seams Andres that people just love to smash up your work and galleries love to close your shows from New York , Melbourne Australia , Sweden, etc. Having experienced Melbourne you know they should leave the work up and open to the public. By closing the exhibition down isn’t the Vandal actually achieving their final goal? Seams a paradigm that the negative response ends up having the achieved outcome rather than the artist completing their show? Was this not the original purpose of the work…exhibition?

  2. 2 Jane Davila February 16, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Absolutely June. With the taping of the destruction, the act of destroying – and the pursuit of “celebrity” – seems to become more important than the result to the vandals.

  3. 3 June February 16, 2008 at 10:44 am

    The whole episode makes me shudder. I can understand public outcry and rants of rage from the pulpit (or in the mosque) but I can neither understand nor condone this kind of violence. It’s only a small step from axes violating art to axes violating people. Very reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

    It is good that the gallery was able to continue the exhibit, albeit with reduced hours. And fascinating that the NY exhibit didn’t come in for more than muted response. Of course Piss Christ became part of a political circus, which in the US is played like football.

    There are other sorts of (gruesomely) amazing attributes of the action — the destruction of photographs, of course, doesn’t destroy the art — it merely destroys a reproduction, high class and expensive perhaps, but the “originals” can still be remade. And the videotaping of the scene reminds me that bad money pushes out good — that this is more posturing but on a different scale; web media has now made it possible to present these actions to the whole world. I don’t know what to make of either of these two points, but they seem related. In both cases, the media is an important attribute of the action.

  4. 4 Jane Davila February 16, 2008 at 9:41 am

    The gallery ended up continuing the show with just the undamaged paintings and was only open two hours each day. They were fearful of more attacks and couldn’t guarantee the safety of the exhibit beyond the brief time they were open to the public. There are two more of each image from the original printing, so the vandals didn’t destroy the work completely

    Interestingly, the show first opened in the Netherlands in 1996 and was met with religious and legislative protests, and paint bombs. When it opened in NY later that year there was a much more muted response. Unlike the response to the NY display of Serrano’s Piss Christ which I think the NEA is still recovering from.

    Sterotypically speaking one would think that Europeans would be more open to sexually explicit images than Americans.

  5. 5 Olga February 16, 2008 at 4:47 am

    Hmm, interesting question. If the gallery thought that the work was good enough to be exhibited, then the reaction to it is just as valid as any other critique, and photos of the damage could be displayed wherever newspaper clippings are shown.

    As for adding the destroyed pieces to the original show – well, this becomes a different show, and I can see that the gallery might not be willing to endorse a revised statement in this way.

  6. 6 Kate Themel February 14, 2008 at 7:20 am

    I agree with the artist. The damaged works should be displayed along with the undamaged. The vandals got what they wanted & caused this exhibit to be shut down. By doing this, their cowardly acts will be essentially ‘swept under the rug’.
    I would have preferred instead that these pieces remain up, forcing the public to see the after effects of intolerance. Hate and violence have consequences. We shouldn’t look away from this destruction or pretend nothing happened. Rather, we should face it & examine our own prejudices.

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