It’s been almost twenty years since American photographer Andres Serrano (1950) came to controversial fame in the United States -and elsewhere- with his “Piss Christ” (1987), a reddish photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in a glass full of Serrano’s own urine. Since then, his photographic series have kept on fascinating and on dividing the public and critical opinion.
Mostly known for his play with vulgar materials –bodily fluids such as sperm, blood and maternal milk—and the creation of plastic images, one of the hallmark of Serrano’s oeuvre is the variety of subject matters it spans. These last years, the photographer from Honduran and Afro-Cuban background has been producing a series of portraits that provide a cross-section of the social fabric of contemporary America. This last series seems to take a step further his endeavour towards producing more contemplative works as these that portray members of the Church, the Ku Klux Klan and the socially marginalised city-dweller. Though still prioritising figures that might at first sight provoke amazement for their peculiar professional activities and embodiment of determined stereotypes (J. B. Pimp, 2003), photographs such as Ken Cox, set designer and Boy Scout John Schneider, Troop 422, both from his 2002 series “America”, are suffused with healing compassion. Yet, Andres Serrano’s choice of titles perpetuates his own tradition of associating suggestive narratives that prolong the bodily impact already secured by his shocking visual language based on the confrontation between apparently clashing concepts and realities. The impact of this viewing experience is further amplified by the viewer’s knowledge of their documentary nature. Serrano’s images are produced by conventional photographic techniques (as opposed to digital manipulation). This is of a special importance when considering for instance his series of morgue photos, burn victims or portraits of Ku Klux Klan members whom he got to pose for him, a representative of respectively the gay and Afro-American communities.
Though Serrano has his detractors, each of his series seems to bring into the public arena sets of questions that are difficult to confront even in the privacy of home. If Serrano’s early work was addressing essential life questions attaining to the all-pervasiveness of physical decadence and death, its fascinating beauty and the aesthetics of the physical and psychical crippled other, his latest series show a shift towards a profoundly humanistic vision of contemporary America.
Composed of a selection of his early works related to eschatology and the Catholic religion (“Piss Christ”, 1987), of his abstract series involving organic maters (“Frozen Sperm I”, 1990), of his portraits of actual Ku Klux Klan members (“Klansman” Wizard III) and of his latest series “America” (“Ken Cox, set designer”, “Boy Scout John Schneider, Troop 422”), the exhibition consisting of eight bill-board size photographs to be seen at Walter Otero Gallery, Puerto Rico, stands as a unique chance to get a taste of Serrano’s oeuvre.