Photograph of crucifix submerged in urine attacked in French gallery after weeks of protests.
April 18, 2011
The controversial work Piss Christ by the New York photographer Andres Serrano has been destroyed at a gallery in France after weeks of protests.
The photograph, which shows a small crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine, outraged the US religious right in 1987, when it was first shown, with Serrano denounced in the Senate by the Republican Jesse Helms. It was later vandalised in Australia, and neo-Nazis ransacked a show by the artist in Sweden in 2007.
The work has previously been shown without incident in France, but for the past two weeks Catholic groups have campaigned against it, culminating in hundreds of people marching through Avignon on Saturday in protest.
Just after 11am on Sunday, four people in sunglasses entered the gallery where the exhibition was being held. One took a hammer from his sock and threatened security staff. A guard restrained one man but the remaining members of the group managed to smash an acrylic screen and slash the photograph with what police believe was a screwdriver or ice pick. They then destroyed another photograph, of nuns' hands in prayer.
Piss Christ is part of a series by Serrano showing religious objects submerged in fluid such as blood and milk. It was being shown in an exhibition to mark 10 years of the art dealer Yvon Lambert's personal collection in his 18th-century mansion.
Last week the gallery complained of "extremist harassment" by Christians who wanted the image banned. The archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called the work "odious" and said he wanted "this trash" taken off the gallery walls. Saturday's street protest against the work gained the support of the far-right National Front, which has recently done well in local elections.
Lambert had complained he was being "persecuted" by religious extremists who had sent him tens of thousands of emails. He likened the atmosphere to a return to the middle ages. The gallery stepped up protection, putting Plexiglass in front of Piss Christ and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.
The culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, condemned the vandalism as an attack on the fundamental freedoms of creation and expression. A police complaint has been filed by the gallery and the guards.
The gallery's director, Eric Mézil, says he will keep the exhibition open to the public with the destroyed work on show "so people can see what barbarians can do".
The I Believe in Miracles exhibition opened in December and will run until May.