Piss Christ

From Censorpedia

Piss Christ by Serrano Andres (1987).jpg

Artist: Andres Serrano

Year: 1997

Date of Action: October 12, 1997


Location: Victoria, Australia

Subject: Religion

Medium: Photography

Confronting Bodies: John Allen Haywood, Two unnamed teenagers, Dr. Timothy Potts

Description of Artwork: The photograph is a part of a series exploring fluids, such as blood, milk, urine and semen. The photo itself is an image of a plastic crucifix inside a jar of yellow liquid, which the artist said was his own urine. Viewers often interpret the crucifix's immersion in bodily fluid as blasphemous, and it has attracted religiously-motivated censorship as a result. Yet Andres Serrano, the artist, views his work differently.

“You could say, I’m a controversial artist by accident," he says. "I had no idea Piss Christ would get the attention it did, since I meant neither blasphemy nor offense by it. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, so I am a follower of Christ. But I’m an artist, and the role of the artist is to break new ground for himself and for his audience.”

Explaining the work, Serrano argues his work is an accurate portrayal of a religiously-significant event: "What it symbolizes is the way Christ died: the blood came out of him but so did the piss and the shit. Maybe if Piss Christ upsets you, it's because it gives some sense of what the crucifixion actually was like."

The Incident: The National Gallery of Victoria planned to exhibit a print of the photograph as a part of an exhibition. On the first day of its opening weekend, the photograph was kicked by a 51-year-old man named John Allen Haywood, who went on to receive one month of jail time. His attack only partially damaged the frame, however, and the exhibition was set to continue when the next day, two teenagers, aged 16 and 18, staged one attack on a photo of a Ku Klux Klan member on an opposite wall, which sufficiently distracted the guards while the other destroyed Serrano’s work.

Results of Incident: Shortly afterward, the exhibit was shut down by the museum art director Dr. Timothy Potts, who cited "the safety of the gallery and its staff."


Artist: Andres Serrano

Year: 2011

Date of Action: April 17, 2011

Region: Europe

Location: Avignon, France

Subject: Religion

Medium: Photography

Confronting Bodies: An Unnamed Vandal

Description of Artwork: The photograph is a part of a series exploring fluids, such as blood, milk, urine and semen. Piss Christ, the formal title of which is "Immersion," offers the visual of a crucifix suspended in a body of amber-colored urine.

The Incident: An Avignon museum sought to display a print of the photograph as a part of an exhibition called "I Believe in Miracles." After an 800-person protest earlier that day by conservative Christians outside of the museum, an assailant attacked the photograph with a hammer and either a pick-axe or a screwdriver, effectively destroying the work.

Results of Incident: The museum continued the exhibition and displayed the damaged work.


Artist: Andres Serrano

Year: 2023

Date of Action: May 9, 2023

Region: North America

Location: Santa Barbara, California, USA

Subject: Religion

Medium: Photography

Confronting Bodies: The Thomas More Society

Description of Artwork: Serrano's photograph presents an image of a crucifix submerged in urine—which the artist claimed was his own.

The Incident: The Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) attracted controversy for including Andres Serrano's "Immersion (Piss Christ)" in the curriculum of one of its high school "Theory of Knowledge" courses at Dos Pueblos High School. A Catholic law firm, The Thomas More Society, sent the school district a letter on May 9, 2023, demanding the work be removed from the course, claiming it was "illegal" and anti-Catholic "bigotry."

"The 'Piss Christ' image is hate-speech which is intended to, and which actually does, cause devout Catholics to feel directly harassed and targeted," the letter read. "The image is meant to provoke a reaction, it is meant to be harassing. In that sense, it may be “art,” but teaching it is no different than asking students to personally step on a crucifix so that the class can then have a discussion about how engaging in blasphemy made them feel."

Results of Incident: Attorneys from the Thomas More Society announced their victory on June 7, 2023, sharing that the school district promised them "Piss Christ" would no longer be used in the "Theory of Knowledge" course moving forwards.