For artist Andres Serrano, much hasn’t changed since the 1980s. Late in that decade, his photograph Piss Christ, which depicted a plastic crucifix submerged in a vat of the artist’s urine, became the center of national controversy. The North Carolina-based Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art awarded Serrano a prize for the work that was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. As Piss Christ traveled around the country, two Republican Senators—Alfonse D’Amato and Jesse Helms—launched a campaign to defund the NEA based on the “blasphemy” of the work. Today, similar battles over funding for the arts still rage.
A selection of over 30 years of Serrano's work—now on view now at gallerist Jack Shainman’s Kinderhook, New York art space, The School—also reveal a keen and prescient perspective on the controversies that have defined America for decades. Serrano’s America series from the early aughts, comprised of portraits of Americans from all different backgrounds, includes portraits of both Donald Trump and a convert to Islam (plus Yoko Ono, the only subject who ever instructed Serrano to shoot her a certain way). In Torture, Serrano stages scenes of volunteers shackled, stripped, and hooded like tortured prisoners. The artist spoke about the reception to his work and why, finally, he’s hopeful for some change.