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'The History of Sex' Scandal

If you didn’t know the history behind the Swedish Art Gallery Scandal, one may ask why someone would do such a thing to hurt one man’s work of art, or even better yet— a masterpiece. But if you look at the past history of Andres Serrano you can see what his artwork consists of and observe how they caused tension in many groups worldwide.

When I researched the background of Andres Serrano even I was taken aback by his pieces of art. Andres Serrano is an American photographer who became famous from taking photos of corpses. Personally I think that in this world there is a lot better things to take pictures of than that, but whatever floats your boat and makes it rise to the top is the path you must take I guess. Another one of his controversial pieces of art is called ‘Piss Christ’ which is of a plastic crucifix in a jar of the photographers own urine. Of course this sparked an outraged and people were upset and put off by galleries that continued to support this man’s right to express what he is feeling through art.

However when does something cross the line from controversial to something that needs to be censored? And who decides who and what should be censored and when censorship is okay?

On Friday, October 5th a video appeared on YouTube of what appeared to be men scurrying through a Swedish art gallery completely ruining the sexually explicit photos of Andres Serrano. As the vandals fled the scene they left pamphlets reading, “Against decadence and for a healthier culture.? No one knows their organization or what they could have possibly been affiliated with but what is obvious is that they did not support the ideas and works of Andres Serrano. It is apparent that these men felt the need to take it upon themselves to ruin $200,000 worth of art simply because they did not agree with the topic chosen by the artist.

According to the article this is not the first time Andres Serrano’s work has come under attack. His other famous piece ‘Piss Christ’ became a conversation piece between politicians and religious groups alike when the National Endowment for the Arts gave Serrano a grant. Luckily for Mr. Serrano he makes triples of all of his artwork pieces knowing that they are notoriously shocking and constantly under fire.

One may ask why the art gallery chose to feature Andres knowing that he is always under attack. The truth is that he does have the right to express how he feels through his art and since it is done well is should be displayed. Simply because his artwork is racy doesn’t mean it should be hidden in a closet for anybody to see. Which brings me to my next question; if so many people have problems why doesn’t someone censor this man’s work?

On the National Coalition Against Censorship website they have Andres Serrano listed in 1989 for his tactless work of ‘Piss Christ’. I don’t care if someone likes the piece ‘Piss Christ’ but there is no argument when it comes to it having tact or not. So in 1989 Reverend Donald Wildmon, who was director of the American Family Association at the time, took it upon himself to verbally attack Serrano through a mail campaign once he found out that he was receiving a grant for his work. According to the NCAC Reverend Donald Wildmon’s letter stated that
Andres Serrano's work was “shocking, abhorrent, and completely undeserving of any recognition whatsoever.?
The main problem he had was "is not a question of free speech" but "a question of taxpayers' money". To me it seems like both sides—Reverend Donald Wildmon, and the NACA—both have extremely weak arguments when it comes to putting away Andres Serrano’s work. Of course the NACA just played the ‘freedom of speech’ card and truly couldn’t do nothing more. It’s not like Andres Serrano’s artwork was adding value to the society either culturally, educationally, or socially.

As I browsed the internet for the many works of Andres Serrano I found myself to imagine what the art gallery contained; pictures of dead bodies that Andres re-cut himself and dirty pictures of nuns. “Oh okay.? I said to myself as to not pass judgment on him before I finished writing my article. Nevertheless I feel more educated about the situation now than if I were to pick up The New York Times off the street and make a decision such as “Whoa, if they did that then his pictures must have been bad,? or a simple “Oh, it’s just another angst group that didn’t get their way again.? Maybe you should look at his other artwork too, but I don’t recommend it for weak stomachs.

Comments

In paragraph six of your position paper you bring up a good point: Why would an art gallery display Serrano’s art if it is so controversial? You propose that the galleries showcase his art simply because he has the right to express his emotions though art. I believe that the galleries show his art and similar art because they need all of the public relations they can get, good or bad. The fact is art is just not as popular and fascinating to the general public as it once has been. However, humanity is always interested in a controversial scandal. Most people could not name ten art galleries off the top of their head, but have no trouble rattling off every single detail about the latest pop culture scandal or the poor call that the referee made in yesterday’s game. For example, I only know of a handful of artists and art museums, but I could talk for half an hour regarding the problems with the Vikings and why they only have two wins on the season. After the scandal has arisen, the galleries proceed to capitalize on the emotions of the general public. People will want to find out for themselves what all the hullabaloo is about, thus generating revenue for the art galleries. The freedom of Serrano to present his emotions publicly is very low on the agenda of gallery owners.

I agree with Michael about the shock factor that is associated with such ‘art’. The formal definition of art, as described by Webster’s Dictionary, is defined as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.? There is nothing beautiful about pornographic photos portraying beastialty, nor does it bring closure, allowing others to sympathize with the creator. Instead, it creates an unsettling feeling that this is not enough.
“What else can we do to shock people? Molest children in photos and call it art?? This display is a mixture of emptiness that appeals to people who have never experienced true love. This art devalues what should normally be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, making it cold and sickening. As an artist myself, I am aware that not all art is meant to be beautiful, and that it can represent pain and sadness. A way that art is commonly interpreted is realizing that art has a potential to create beauty in such a bleak, indifferent world. If we create images that allow others to experience what is truly beautiful, there is a lot of power in that. We can experience a vast amount of emotion through music and art. It is such a pity that ‘artists’ such as Andres Serrano have completely ruined the definition of art, and the Kulturen Gallery allows it to continue.

Although I do not approve of the acts of violence the criminals committed, I do sympathize with their reasoning. I can see why others are frustrated, and they have every right to be. I think the best protest, however, would be to create truly beautiful art that makes a spirit soar. That way, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.

Courtney,

I can see why you were so interested in this topic. In your fourth paragraph you mention people destroying “$200,000 worth? of Andres Serrano’s art. This is ridiculous; it happens, but I don’t think this was the right way to take care of their disproval of Serrano’s personal expression. I am sure that he does not appreciate the criminals “expression? towards his work, by defacing it. However, as you say Serrano realizes that his artwork creates tension among people, so he makes copies of all of his artwork.

However, I don’t see why anyone would give him a grant for his artwork. If the public does not like it then why would anyone pick him to receive money from the people, as you quote, “taxpayers' money".? Part of the job of people on committees is to determine who deserves a grant out a pile of candidates. If I were truly against Serrano then I would ask, who approved the grant? I would further take my quarrel to them, as well as the censorship committee.

I was confused when I read further in your position though. You say his work is “well done,? but later you say, “It’s not like Andres Serrano’s artwork was adding value to the society either culturally, educationally, or socially.? These are conflicting ideas in my mind. How can a piece of art be so hated and not contribute to anything, yet be “well done?? How are you defining this term as far as artwork goes? Or, how do you know that it has not contributed to society? I don’t think this question can be very easily answered and thus not easily claimed.

I enjoyed reading your position statement because I had no idea who Serrano was or anything about the controversy. I took a look at his artwork, and I can see why it is controversial, yikes! Is this your research topic? It’s really interesting.

~Amber

First let me start off by saying that I thought that you did a great job on this particular topic and all of the elements involved in it. I thought that you made some valid points. For example, you talked about why the galleries still display Andres Serrano’s artwork when it is pretty well known that the pieces are racy and offensive to certain groups of people. I was kind of confused on what your point of view on this question. First you say that Andres Serrano “does have the right to express how he feels through his art and since it is done well is should be displayed,? but then in the same paragraph you ask how come no one has tried to censor his work yet. I think that one of the reasons that an art gallery would want to display his art is for the fact that the art work is racy and offensive. An art gallery might want to prove a point by displaying offensive and controversial art work. One thing that I disagree with you about is when you said, “It’s not like Andres Serrano’s artwork was adding value to the society either culturally, educationally, or socially.? It might be that his work does add value to you either culturally, educationally, or socially, but to someone else his work might have meaning in one way or another. I thought that you made an excellent point about the NACA and Donald Wildmon having weak arguments for putting away his art work. I think that if they are going to try to censor someone’s art work, they are going to go against everything that people stand for in the U.S.

Courtney,
I truly enjoyed reading your position statement, even though I kind of have a different view on things. This topic, frankly, has been one of the most interesting subjects yet.

Again, we deluge into the debate of analyzing things from different points of view, this time with “explicit? pieces of art. People can say that one man's trash is another’s treasure, so trying to sway someone into siding with me is pointless, but I will share my opinions.

I think that too much stuff is being considered art just because it’s abstract or controversial. I am not the most art-influenced person around, but I don’t see why some people do things just to raise conversation. It is taking away from other works which had the same or more effort invested. Using a situation like Andres Serrano as an example; I guess I don’t understand what would provoke someone to piss in a jar, place a cross in there, and then call it a masterpiece. Also, how are some people able to say “I like that?? It goes in the completely opposite direction of general ethics.

Like Courtney said, who is to judge between appropriate and vulgar. Any type of censorship would lead to some sort of riot among some communities; because of this no one has the guts to do it. I am probably showing a little too much of my conservative side, but I think that some things need to get cleaned up. We can say that we are all adults and that we are mature enough to handle these works, but doing something with the knowledge that you will offend someone is childish.

I think this positional paper is written very well and I also agree with you on this subject. Neither side really defends what is being attacked very well. There are many things that could have been done to not have so much controversy, but what’s life without controversy. By allowing the art to be placed in a museum is what set off the most people. The art expresses his views of art and others don’t agree with it. One thing this country offers is freedom of speech or thoughts. This is what the NACA used, but it does work… for the most part. When it gets down to it the true hard facts is what needs to be brought out. If one person likes the art and someone else doesn’t then deal with it. You can’t control what others believe is art just because you don’t like it. Many scholar figures may portray the art as amazing while the general public portrays the art as nasty.

One other thing that I see as questionable is the way the people who disapproved with the art by destroying it. I think that if someone attacks another in any form it only strengthens them and the people being attacked come back more powerful than before.

Although many people disagree with his art I believe there should be no restrictions because we are in the wonderful country that allows people to say and do what they want… The USA.

I was ready to throw up when I saw his “art?. It was horrifying. After looking through Andres Serrano’s “art,? I thought to myself would I consider this a piece of art work. I went in look at the dictionary words for art and I found that my definition was on the opposite side of what the dictionary has to say. Its amazes me that this guy’s art, or “master piece? if you would could wasn’t censored to being with. What Courtney said about why they couldn’t censor his art because their argument was too weak, or it could be that they just didn’t wanted to censor his work.
As I look through his work it was disgusting was they word that passed through my mind. Why would anyone consider this a form of “art?? That was the word that passed through my mind. They I realize that all those reading that we have been reading were about photographs and why they were in a sense “art.? Everyone’s view towards something is different from everyone else that is when I realize that his “art? work as you may call it was in a sense similar to that of Agee and Walker’s work. Depend on who looked at it although a lot of people didn’t like it when it first came out. Maybe in a later date people may look at it as some of the best work done like Agee and Walker’s work.
I what Courtney said about judging they art of this guy, Andres Serrano, I have to look at the whole picture before I started judging his art. This may not be art to me, but to another person this may be a master piece. This may be the reason why is art is not censor to being with. To sum it all up to what Courtney said about Andres Serrano’s art I agree mostly what she said.

First off, Courtney, you did an excellent job bringing in some history of Andres Serrano and pieces of his work into your position statement. After reading the article about the vandals, and the history that you summarized, it was easier for me to understand Andres Serrano’s ‘vulgar’ art. I looked at some of his pieces as you had suggested (I do not have a weak stomach), and witnessed why people would be shocked.

I am not quite sure how I feel about his pieces. For some reason I don’t feel like I’m quite as appalled as some others who commented on your writing. Miranda stated how art is used to either display beautiful aesthetic pieces, or convey the artist’s feelings, maybe of sorrow and depression. I think art is created in a distorted image, of how you might view (or think of) the world.

I have been keen on writing on photography, because that is my choice of art. I believe that a photograph really captures a true feeling of emotion, where portraits can reflect the artist’s own feelings of a person and add those traits to the image (almost like a caricature). When it comes down to simple (or maybe not so simple) ‘art’ then I feel the artist has no bounds, and can interpret the world in what they might feel. Art, to me, is simply conveying your own ‘dream world’ to everybody by either visual, audio, or tasty sensations. Salvador Dali interpreted the world in a much different sense than most of the general population. Andres Serrano might have felt he had been betrayed by God, and made his works out of spite of him. Most of his controversial pieces do not sit right in the eyes of the Church or of modern society, but he might be conveying the ‘dirty little pleasures’ that humans tend to have.

I definitely agree with you, Courtney, when you state that this art might merely be a ‘shock factor’, a way in order for people to remember what he did, or make it into some kind of gallery. Everybody likes trouble. It really comes back to the whole ‘car crash scenario’. When there is a car crash on the highway, cars slow down while passing it and back up the whole traffic. It can be argued that the drivers are trying to give the emergency crew enough space to work, but there is also that feeling that you should look at the car crash, just to see what you can see. Andres might have just created this ‘car crash’ (his art) in order for people to slow down and look at it. I think everybody should have a right to not look at his work, but since it was tucked away in a gallery, I don’t see any harm in people just glancing at it.