Andres Serrano was born in 1950 in New York City. He attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School from 1967 to 1969, where he studied painting and sculpture. Serrano’s name, along with Robert Mapplethorpe’s, was at the crossroads of the 1989 Cultural Wars when Serrano’s photograph, Piss Christ (1987), became the subject of a national debate on freedom of artistic expression and the public funding of controversial art.
Serrano works primarily with photography, formally addressing universal themes of death, religion, sex and bodily fluids. Throughout his confrontational and challenging work, Serrano unpicks the hypocrisies and highlights similarities within religious, political and social constructs. Serrano is an internationally acclaimed American artist whose work has been shown in major institutions in the United States and abroad.
PCR) How do you describe your practice?
AS) I’m an artist. For most of my life, my art practice has been taking pictures. But I do all kinds of things. A few years ago, I did an exhibition called, The Game: All Things Trump, an installation of a thousand objects all bearing the name Trump. Last year, I did a film about the Jan 6th Insurrection called Insurrection. And now I’ve done an NFT of Piss Christ.
PCR) Which artists do you count as your biggest influences?
AS) Marcel Duchamp, Bob Dylan and Pablo Picasso. Not only was Picasso a great artist, but he had great quotes. Of course, Andy Warhol also had great quotes, but I can’t say Andy influenced me.
PCR) Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
AS) Absolutely, but I don’t know what that means.
PCR) How do you define the use of appropriation within your practice?
AS) Everything you do is an appropriation of something you’ve seen or heard, except you do it in your own way. Now I’ve done an appropriation of Piss Christ. I’ve appropriated myself.
PCR) How did the NFT of ‘Piss Christ’ come about?
a/political, the arts organisation I have worked with for years, including on The Game and Insurrection, asked me if I was interested in making an NFT. I thought the only NFT that made sense to me was of Piss Christ, and when I realised this was its 35th anniversary, I said let’s do it as a commemoration and celebration.
PCR) How do you qualify your depiction of the crucifixion as an art object?
AS) It’s a picture, and Marcel Duchamp taught me that anything, including a photograph, could be a work of art.
PCR) Does the controversy of ‘Piss Christ’ share a common ground with Chris Ofili’s ‘The Holy Virgin Mary’ (with elephant dung) or the depiction of Muhammad in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons?
AS) I don’t think so. I don’t know about those guys, but I’m a Christian. I work with the symbols of my faith. I was taught to believe in “the body and blood of Christ”, and that’s what I work with. Not only that, when I made my Confirmation, I was told it meant that I was now “a soldier of God.” I’m still a soldier of God.
PCR) Did you anticipate the negative/positive fallout from this artwork?
AS) You can’t have one without the other. Good cannot exist without bad, and the sacred without the profane. The question is, which is which? Everyone has their own ideas about that.
PCR) Do you think any subject can be juxtaposed in the name of art?
AS) It’s done all the time. So who am I to judge what people do?
PCR) Have you ever felt your freedom of speech threatened by people who don’t understand your work?
AS) Freedom of speech is threatened by many things, including people who don’t like you without knowing anything about you. Some people don’t like you just for being you. I remember doing a show called Shit, and before it even opened, someone wrote, “he’s just doing it for the attention.” And I thought, doesn’t everyone want attention or recognition for what they do? Elon Musk wants attention. Donald Trump wants attention. Even your plumber wants attention.
PCR) Do you consider art as a valid doctrine like religion?
AS) To a lot of people, art is a religion. They make it, buy it, and eat it like there’s no tomorrow. You can’t get more religious than that.
PCR) The Vatican collection has an area devoted to Contemporary/Modern art. Do you think ‘Piss Christ’ should be represented in this collection?
AS) Of course, Piss Christ should be in the Vatican collection. It’s a religious work, and I’m a religious artist. A Christian artist. They say they want to start an NFT gallery to “democratise art.” Now is the time for them to think about acquiring Piss Christ.
PCR) Do you consider yourself an outsider artist or part of the mainstream art world?
AS) Actually, both. I got one foot in and one foot out. I’m more cult than mainstream, rogue than the establishment, and crazy than normal.
PCR) What are your thoughts about NFTs? Do you see it as the medium of the future or a flash in the pan?
AS) I can’t see it as a flash in the pan because too many people have invested so much time, money, creativity and technology for it to be a flash in the pan. Besides, if it’s on the Blockchain, isn’t it forever?
Words: Andres Serrano With Paul Carter Robinson Top Photo and Insert Photo Courtesy Andres Serrano