ArtBeat: Andres Serrano Retrospective @ The School

Works by Andres Serrano @ The School
Works by Andres Serrano @ The School

By Greg Haymes

30 years ago, Andres Serrano created one of the most controversial artworks of the past half century.

The photograph is actually quite lovely, a 60-by-40-inch Cibachrome print of a plastic crucifix diffused by a golden glow that makes the cross seem luminous and almost reverential.

Lots of people didn’t see it that way, however, and the photograph quickly became a lightning rod for heated debate, not for the artwork itself as much for its title – “Piss Christ.”

The work in question is, in fact, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own urine, which is not all that surprising considering that Serrano had long been exploring the mysteries of bodily fluids in his work, taking a painterly, abstract approach to much of his photography.

“Essentially, I have always felt that I painted with the fluids in much the same way that other artists would use oil paint or watercolors,” says Serrano.

Now “Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” – a retrospective exhibition of Serrano’s photographs – is opening at The School in Kinderhook on Saturday (January 7).

“I used to take a lot of single photographs – just one picture at a time – but I don’t anymore,” explains Serrano. “Now, when I have an image in my mind, I usually see it as a whole body of work or a series of thematically-linked photographs, and it’s difficult for me to take just one photograph on a specific subject now. Rather than take individual photographs, I think in terms of an entire show.”

Included in the exhibition at The School are selected photographs from various series including “America” (2001-2004), a panorama of American society; “The Morgue” (1992), an investigation of death; “History of Sex” (1995-1996), graphic images which have been taped to repair previous vandalism; and “Torture” (2015), his most recent work.

Early on, Serrano explored other avenues of artistic exploration before settling into photography as his life’s work. “Basically, I studied painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, but after two years, I decided that I wasn’t really able to do either of those things,” he admits, “so started to take pictures.

“But I’ve always wanted my work to be shown in gallery and museum shows with artists who make paintings or sculptures or multi-media installations, as opposed to being exclusively exhibited in photography galleries.

“Even though my medium is photography, I’ve never called myself a photographer,” he says quietly. “I’ve always just thought of myself as an artist. And I’m always happy when people are able to keep that straight.”

In conjunction with Serrano’s exhibition, The School is also hosting Home Room: A Multimedia Group Exhibition featuring works by Huma Bhabha, Nick Cave, Turiya Magadlela, Enrique Martínez Celaya, Claudette Schreuders, Laurie Simmons and others.

The School is open from 11am-5pm on Saturdays or by appointment.

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