Artist Andres Serrano calls DOX’s retrospective ‘a bang up show with no holds barred’

The exhibition displays 120 photographs, many for the first time in Prague, from the artist who started culture wars in the US.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 22.06.2023 15:08:00 (updated on 22.06.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

New York artist Andres Serrano has long divided both critics and the public, with some of his works hailed as masterpieces and others condemned as tasteless provocations. A new exhibition at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art called Infamous Beauty presents 120 large-format photographs showing a cross-section of his career.

For four decades, Serrano has dealt with social issues, sexuality and fetishes, racial intolerance, and the darker aspects of the human condition. He has photographed Ku Klux Klan members, the dead in a morgue, close-ups of firearms, and the homeless in New York’s subway system.

The exhibition has several complementary parts. In the main hall, under the title Beauty, over 60 works show highlights of the artist’s long artistic career. DOX also shows the complete Infamous series from 2019. A third space is dedicated to Serrano’s latest series, Confessions, oil pastel drawings by Serrano over black and white photographs of sculptures by Michelangelo.

Works by Andres Serrano at DOX. Photo: Jan Slavík ©DOX
Works by Andres Serrano at DOX. Photo: Jan Slavík ©DOX

The work is more complex than it first seems

Exhibition curator Otto M. Urban said Serrano’s unconventional works are filled with artistic nods to the old masters: "As an art historian, I like it when you can find a reference to art history in the works, which Serrano makes," Urban said. He added that people can find a painterly perception as well as artistic geometry in the photographs.

"In some of his portraits, one can see the famous 19th-century American photographer Edward S. Curtis, and he also mentions Caravaggio and Baroque paintings. That is why I was immediately attracted by how he works with references and how he transforms the works of older artists," Urban said.

Serrano says the show includes best work

Serrano, who came to the opening earlier this month, said he was pleased with the Prague exhibit. "My work is fluid and transitional, that is to say, it’s an organic process. One picture leads to another, one idea, one series transitions into the next one. It’s a thread that links everything I do from one day to the next, one month, one year, one decade to the other," Serrano said.

“Otto Urban, who curated this exhibition, understood that for my first ever exhibition in Prague, the exhibition had to be a bang-up show with no holds barred. He picked some of my best work from different series coming from many places, Fotografiska in Sweden, a/political in London, Nathalie Obadia Gallery in France and Belgium,” he added.

Jack Rainmaker, Munsee Lenape (1996), series Native Americans ©Andres Serrano
Jack Rainmaker, Munsee Lenape (1996), series Native Americans ©Andres Serrano

First salvo in the ongoing culture wars

His early works made use of bodily fluids such as urine, blood, and breast milk. Serrano’s 1987 photograph Piss Christ, which shows a crucifix immersed in the artist’s urine, sparked outrage and even a debate on art in the United States Senate. Piss Christ arguably began the U.S. culture wars and had a massive negative impact on federal funding for the arts. An NFT of this work greets visitors as they enter the Infamous Beauty exhibition.

Serrano in 2016 told the UK newspaper The Guardian that the work symbolizes the way Christ died, which was very graphic. “Maybe if Piss Christ upsets you, it’s because it gives some sense of what the crucifixion actually was like. … I was born and raised a Catholic and I’ve been a Christian all my life,” he said.

Ruger 22 Long Rifle Mark II Target (1992), series Objects of Desire ©Andres Serrano
Ruger 22 Long Rifle Mark II Target (1992), series Objects of Desire ©Andres Serrano

He chooses his topics not according to whether they are taboo for society, but according to what interests him personally: "They may relate to people, places, issues, and ideas around me, but things usually start in my mind and then I go about seeing how I could make them happen," he said.

"These are not things that are taboo to me, more like unexplored. The best way to describe what I do is that I materialize the pictures in my head. And when I take the pictures, they usually look even better than what I imagined! How do I get close to people and get them to do what I want? I ask them," he added.

Music fans may be familiar with his work. His Blood and Semen III was used by the heavy metal band Metallica for the cover of their album Load. A photograph of Piss and Blood was chosen by the band a few years later for the cover of the album Reload. Serrano also directed the music video Crush My Soul for the metal band Godflesh.

The exhibition runs until Jan. 7, 2024, at DOX. The gallery is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. The closest tram stop is Ortenovo náměstí.  

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