Thursday, August 28, 2008
As a senior in high school, we were forced to write a research paper. The topic could be anything, but it was pretty strongly suggested that we write about something close to our major. I chose to write about artistic freedom as embodied by Andres Serrano's Piss Christ and Maplethorpe’s suite of S&M photos. I argued that not only did the First Amendment give the artists to make these works, but that the prevailing Judeo-Christian culture of America could do nothing but understand them as offensive.
Now, from the comfortable distance of a decade or so later, I look back on that effort and cringe, wishing I’d chosen something a little more (ahem) subtle. But, unlike one of my first forays into writing, Andres Serrano is back. This time around with a body of work based on shit (some of his interim works used corpses, others were art-school obvious images of priests and nude, strung up women). The images, shot like semi-abstract close-ups of food, with gorgeous backdrops, nuances of color and blown up to eight feet high aren’t so much offensive as they are evidence of thin thinking. In fact, the artist says that he came up with the idea for the suite while watching the nude wrestling scene in Borat.
Lynn Yeager’s Village Voice interview with the artist is kind of genius. Not just because she discusses the illegality of procuring caca from, say, the zoo. But also because, as the Voice’s fashion writer, she clocks the artist’s gear (a Blackpool Bombers T-shirt, a humongous rhinestone-studded belt, and a pair of artfully molting, pointy $1,000 Gianni Barbato boots) and his apartment (his East Village home, a once-normal-looking residence transformed by votive candles, chandeliers, ecclesiastical statuary, and the replacement of every inch of sheetrock with limestone into a sort of medieval crypt). These descriptions of the artist and his residence do more to undermine his aesthetic than a protracted dissertation on the validity, artistic precedents, and intelligence of Serrano and his work.
It’s not just the incredible arrogance of the artist that shocks (more than the work itself), it is the dull, boringness of premise (the byproducts of the body human/ body animal have already been explored more elegantly and intelligently). Clearly, this is an artist who, though he might acknowledge the stink of his shit, still thinks he can turn it into gold.
*of course, I’ve only seen the images online; in person, at 8ft tall, I might change my opinion. However, I tend to think that shit–-even served up on a golden platter-–is still shit.