Religion has always been a central theme in the history of art. However, when contemporary artists tackle the subject, they always know how to add a touch of provocation to spark controversy. Yet very often, the issue lies in the context. Let’s have a look at three religious works that caused a scandal!
« Piss Christ » by ANDRES SERRANO
The photograph “Piss Christ” (1987) by Andres Serrano is one of the biggest scandals in contemporary art. The American artist placed a crucifix with a figurine of Jesus in a jar of urine (his own) and blood. According to him, the crucifix is an object that has been trivialised in the United States; it can be found at any market, and yet it is first and foremost an object intended for torture. The photograph is Serrano’s way of condemning those who abuse the teachings of Christ and use them for their own purposes. The artist wanted to pay tribute to Jesus Christ and remind everyone of the suffering he endured for humanity. However, Serrano’s work was not perceived in the way he had hoped. The creation process and the title outraged a number of Catholic communities; in fact, the photograph was vandalised on several occasions. Nevertheless, Andres Serrano stands by his beliefs. He very often works with bodily fluids (milk, blood, urine), which he considers to be the raw materials of life.
« LA NONA ORA » BY MAURIZIO CATTELAN
“The Ninth Hour” (“La nona ora”) is a sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan from 1999. It depicts Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteor and is meant to represent the Pope bearing all the world’s sins. Although its realism and absurdity are surprising, it was mainly the work’s context that caused sensation. At the time, the Pope was still alive and was very beloved. Moreover, the work was exhibited in Poland, John Paul II’s home country. Nevertheless, it was bought for 3 million dollars by François Pinault.
« PIETA » by PAUL FRYER
Strikingly realistic, the sculpture “Pieta” by Paul Fryer (1983) presents an unusual scene. It depicts a dead Christ sat on an electric chair. Why were some people shocked by this rather unconventional representation? There are so many images and paintings of the Crucifixion that they no longer surprise us… Could it be that this work highlights our indifference towards the crucifix, which after all just as barbaric as the electric chair?