Photograph's destruction likely 'what the artist wanted,' charges art historian

Art historian Liz Lev
Art historian Liz Lev


The destruction of an art display depicting the crucified Christ drenched in urine is being described by one Catholic art historian as “probably what the artist wanted all along.”

Art historian Liz Lev made her comments to CNA following an attack on the controversial work while on display in Avignon, France.

The art installation, created in 1987 by American photographer Andres Serrano and dubbed “Piss Christ,” had already been subject to weeks of protest by local Catholics. Demonstrations reached such a level on April 17 that some protesters broke into the gallery and attacked it with hammers and screwdrivers.

The image is now considered to be damaged beyond repair.

Lev, an art historian at Duquesne University’s Rome campus, displayed little sympathy for the artist. “While violent destruction isn’t the answer for much of anything, when a work of art is of such provocation that it offends ones faith – be that Islam, Judaism or Christianity – then it is, to some extent, an act of conscience on the part of the faithful to avoid seeing his or her God denigrated in this fashion.”

She continued, “I mean a jar of the artist’s own urine with Christ in it? What does one really expect is going to happen?  What’s the point of such a piece if not provocation? What else did the artist want to create if not such a reaction? In a way, this is probably what the artist wanted all along.” 

The work has already faced criticism from the Catholic Church in France. Last week Archbishop Jean-Pierre Cattenoz of Vaucluse called upon the gallery to remove “this trash” from its display, labeling the work “odious.”

The French Culture Minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, condemned the destruction of the display as “an attack on the fundamental freedoms of creation and expression.” 

A police complaint has been filed by the gallery.

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