In another reminder that America is simply reliving a fever-dream version of the 1990s, the infamous “Piss Christ” photograph by artist Andres Serrano is coming back to the United States.
The piece, which is simply a photo of Jesus Christ submerged in a glass of piss, will be on display at the Station Museum of Contemporary art in Houston, Texas, starting June 3. Serrano will also display some more recent pieces, including a portrait of Donald Trump.
You may remember “Piss Christ” from when Serrano, who had received some money from the National Endowment for the Arts, first reared his talentless head into the national spotlight. The piece was initially displayed in 1987 in a New York City gallery, where it promptly became a topic of national conversation. It served as a pawn of hack art commentators and insufferable religious moralists.
According to coverage by The Art Newspaper, the redisplaying of “Piss Christ” could “prove potent against the backdrop of Trump’s America and his pledge to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts.” Right, because if there was ever an effective counterargument to gutting federal funding of the humanities, it was showing how federal tax dollars can subsidize the submersion of biblical figures in urine.
Naturally, when Adrian Ellis of AEA Consulting, a consulting firm for “strategy and planning for the cultural and creative industries,” was asked about the cultural tensions in Trump’s America, the Nazi comparisons came flying.
“Culture is, of course, already thoroughly ‘instrumentalized’; but now it’s being weaponized.
“This happens in periods of deep social polarization. Nazi Germany, obviously; but we had a more recent preview in the chapter of culture wars in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the NEA became the chosen battlefield between knowing, canny adversaries. It seems inevitable that culture expression will, willingly or unwillingly, be drawn into the vortex of contemporary non-consensual politics.”
I’m all in favor of free speech, and “Piss Christ” doesn’t offend me in its content as much as in its lame attempt at edginess. At the same time, if the culture war comes down to people who want tax-dollar subsidies towards fecal-related art and those who want shitty artists to shut their mouth, I think the choice is pretty clear.