Andres Serrano, American (1950 - )

The only son of an Honduran immigrant father and a mother of Afro-Cuban origin, Andres Serrano was born in New York and spent most of his childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City. Like his family, his predominantly Italian-American neighbors were devoutly Catholic, and religion played a significant part in his growing up - in school, at home and on the streets. When Serrano was still a young boy, his father left the family to return to Honduras. Raised by a mother who spoke little English, and who was often hospitalized by frequent bouts of psychosis, he was forced to fend for himself from an early age.

After an initial school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, young Serrano began to return to the museum on his own and became enamored with Renaissance painting, in particular its religious iconography. At the age of 15, he dropped out of high school with the ambition of becoming an artist and from 1967-1969 he attended the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Unfortunately his art practice was delayed for several years after he became caught up with drugs and the harsh street life of New York's urban poor.

At the age of 28, Serrano gave up drugs and began working in various straight jobs. These included a stint as an assistant art director at an advertising firm, and while he enjoyed the work, he still wished to pursue an art career full-time. Attracted to painting and sculpture yet insecure about his technical abilities, he focused on photography, with which he had become familiar in his position as art director. From the beginning Serrano thought of himself as an artist using photography, and not as a photographer per se, the distinction being that he was not interested in documenting 'reality', but in creating his own.

Influenced by the pre-war European art movements of Surrealism and Dada, the first images Serrano created (back in 1983) were tableaux incorporating religious iconography, dead animals, raw meat and human subjects, amongst other elements. More than any other, blood was the constant element tying these images together. A symbol for passion and violence, it became the ideal vehicle to convey Serrano's preoccupation with the sacrificial dramas of spiritual, political and sexual practices, and the ecstatic links between them. References to great artists from Rembrandt to Mondrian, and to various cultural forms of memento mori, were also persistent themes that would recur throughout Serrano's oeuvre.

Subsequently, Serrano decided to use blood not just as content, but as form, resulting in images that were more reductive and abstract than his earlier works. Along with blood, the artist began using urine, milk, and later semen, as the raw materials for his work, producing two overlapping series - 'Body Fluids' and 'Immersions' from 1985-90 - which were to prove far more provocative than he ever intended. In a 1989 congressional session, New York State Senator Alfonse D'Amato tore up a reproduction of one of the images from 'Immersions' - the now infamous photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine, titled Piss Christ.

The action sparked a public debate over the National Endowment for the Arts' funding of 'obscene' art, and for better or worse the ensuing notoriety catapulted Serrano to worldwide fame. In fact, Serrano conceived many of the images from both series as monochromatic studies in light and color value. For example, the first photograph in the series, Milk Blood, 1984, explicitly referenced the geometric abstraction of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.

After the media furore over Piss Christ, Serrano turned to the genre of portraiture, creating several thematic bodies of work, each depicting various social groups. The first of these was 'Nomads', 1990, a series of pictures of homeless individuals whom Serrano found on the streets and, in several cases, photographed inside his studio. The sense of dignity captured in these portraits together with their obvious orchestration came to signify a style Serrano would refine in later works such as his 'Budapest Series', 1992, and the opulent images of 'A History of Sex', 1997.

In other works, portraits of Ku Klux Klan members photographed in their own milieu ('Klan Series', 1990) and dead bodies mutilated or in the process of decay ('Morgue', 1992) confront viewers with more discomforting images of violence and death. Still, even these retain a certain seductive quality. Drawing from the lexicon of advertising, fashion and even pornography, Serrano's large-format, highly saturated photographs aestheticize their subject matter, even when this is abject in nature. Like the images produced by his peers Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe, Serrano's works often take on an iconic status, and are some of the most arresting images in contemporary photography.

Artist's Statement:
In the fall of 1997 I was approached by Laurie Fierstein, a bodybuilder and writer, about an exhibition of women bodybuilders she was co-curating for The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. I said I was interested in participating and Laurie provided me with my first models, Tazzie Colomb and Yolanda Hughes. After that, I continued photographing several more bodybuilders, including seven women who competed in 'The 10th Annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic'. My interest in these women is one of curiosity and amazement. I pay tribute to them, much like the Greeks who admired the male physique in search of an aesthetic ideal.

I am also fascinated by the notions of 'masculinity and femininity' and 'power and sex' these women embody and dispel. To some, these pictures are intriguing, to others threatening. Ultimately, they reveal as much about our attitudes to sex and gender as they do about the women themselves.

Andres Serrano
May 1999

Born: 1950 New York, New York

Education: 1967-69 Brooklyn Museum Art School, NY

Awards:   35th Publication Design Competition, 2001

Gold Medal, Art Directors Club 79th Annual Awards, 2000

Silver Medal, Art Directors Club 79th Annual Awards, 2000

Merit Award, The Society of Publication Designers, 2000

New York State Council on the Arts, Sponsored Project, 1990

Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Cintas Foundation, 1989

Awards in the Visual Arts, Art Matters, Inc. 1988

New York Foundation for the Arts, Art Matters, Inc.1987

National Endowment for the Arts, 1986

National Studio Program at P.S.1., Long Island City, NY,1985


One Person Exhibitions

2004    "America", Galleria Photology, Milano, Italy (01/31/04 - 04/03/04)

2003     "America," Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (12/10/03-1/17/04)

"Orizzonti – Belvedere dell’Arte", Firenze Mostre, Florence, Italy (07/07/03 – 10/26/03)

"Works 1985-2002", Andre Simoens Gallery, Belgium (4/20-4/27,2003)

"Ekthesi Photographias", Kalfayan Gallery, Thessaloniki, Greece, (03/03-)

"A History of Sex", 5th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival-Images of the 21st Century, Greece, (March 2003)

"America", Chac Mool Gallery, Los Angeles (01/17/03 – 02/01/03)

2002    Body and Soul," Traveling Exhibition, MEO, Budapest, Hungary (Az idö és a gonosz helye) (2/9 – 3/10/02)

"Andres Serrano," Reali Arte Contemporarea, Brescia, Italy, Feb 2002.

"Andres Serrano’s Via Crucis," Ex Church S. Marta/Rome, (10/3-10/13/02).

"America," Gimpel Fils, London, England (10/25 – 11/30/02)

2001    World Without End," The Cathedral of Saint John The Divine, New York, NY (2/28 – 4/15/01)

"The Beauty of Evil (De Schoonheid van het Kwaad)," De Zonnehof, Center for Modern Art, Amersfoort, Netherlands (10/14/01-4/14/2002)

"Objects of Desire," Andre Simoens Gallery, Knokke-Zoute, Belgium (04/13 – 05/21/01)

"The Interpretation of Dreams," Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (5/12 – 6/8)

"The Interpretation of Dreams," Photology, Milano, Italy (9/20 – 11/17/01)

"The Interpretation of Dreams," Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm, Sweden (10/25 – 12/8/01)

"Body and Soul," The Barbican (The Curve), London (10/4 – 12/23/01)

"Andres Serrano: La Interpretación de los Sueños," Juana de Aizpuru Gallery, Madrid, Spain, (opens 11/8/01)

2000 "Body and Soul," Traveling Exhibition, Bergen Art Society, Bergen, Norway (2/24/00 -3/19/00); Rogaland Kunst Museum, Stavanger, Norway (4/26/00 - 5/21/00); Tromsø Art Society, Tromsø, Norway (6/8/00 - 8/13/00); Stenersenmusett, Olso, Norway (8/21/00 - 10/15/00); Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland (11/1/00 - 12/31/00); Ciurlionis National Museum of Art, Kaunas, Lithuania (1/01 - 2/01); Ludwig Foundation, Aachen, Germany (3/01 - 4/01); Barbican Art Center, London, England (10/01 - 12/01)

"Andres Serrano," Galerie Edition Kunsthandel/20.21, Essen, Germany (9/9 - 11/18/00)

1999 "Andres Serrano" David Perez-MacCallum Arte Contemporaneo, Guayaquil, Ecuador (1/20 - 2/12/99)

"Andres Serrano: Immersions & Fluid Abstractions" Andre Simoens Gallery, Knokke-Heist, Belgium (8/6/99 -9/6/99)

1998 "Andres Serrano: A Survey" Ron Judish Fine Arts, Denver, Colorado (10/24-12/12/98)

"Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Photology, Milan, Italy (9/15-11/10/98),

Photology, London, England (5/28-7/17/98)

"Andres Serrano: ‘Red’" Baumgartner Galleries Inc, Washington, DC (6/18 - 7/15/98)

"A History of Andres Serrano" Horsens Museum of Modern Art, in cooperation with the Groninger Museum, The Netherlands (3/14/ - 5/24/98)

"Andres Serrano: Fluids" Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris (4/25 - 5/30/98)

"Andres Serrano: Selected Photographs 1987-1996" Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, Washington (1/8-2/1/98)

"Andres Serrano: Early Works" Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta, GA (2/6 - 3/4/98)

"Andres Serrano" Galeria 1991-Joao Graca, Lisbon (1/17 - 2/28/98)

1997 "Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Ugo Ferranti, Rome (10/15 - 11/29/97)

"Andres Serrano" National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (10/10 - 10/12/97)

"Andres Serrano" Kirkcaldy Galleries, Melbourne, Australia (10/10 - 11/30/97)

"Andres Serrano" Quintana Gallery, Coral Gables, FL (9/5 - 10/7/97)

"Andres Serrano: Natives + History of Sex", Artcore Gallery, Toronto (9/6 -9/30/97)

"Andres Serrano" PROA, Buenos Aires, Argentina (7/12 - 8/30/97)

"Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (3/1 - 4/12/97)

"Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm, Sweden (5/7 - 6/19/97)

"Andres Serrano: Fluids, The Klan" Lydmar Hotel, Stregatan, Sweden (5/7 - 6/19/97)

"Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (3/1-4/12//97)

"Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris (1/11-2/18/97)

"Andres Serrano" Galeria Juana des Aizpuru, Madrid (1/29-2/29/97); Seville (5/15 - 6/20/97)

"A History of Andres Serrano: A History of Sex" Groninger Museum, The Netherlands (2/21-5/21/97)

1996 "Andres Serrano" Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia (10/17 - 11/10/96)

"Andres Serrano" Galerie Dante, Umag, Croatia (8/12 - 9/15/96)

"Andres Serrano: Large Scale Photographs" Jan Weiner Gallery, Kansas City, MO (9/6-10/31/96)

"Andres Serrano" Mokka, Reykjavik, Iceland (6/3 - 7/8/96)

"Andre Serrano" Sala Mendoza, Caracas, Venezula (3/10 - 4/28/96)

"Andres Serrano" Port de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain (4/26 - 6/31/96)

"Andres Serrano: From A Southern Perspective" UCA Baum Gallery of Fine Art, Conway, Arkansas (4/21 - 5/10/96)

1995 Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Köln (11/12/95-1/12/96)

"Andres Serrano: Budapest" Alfonso Artiaco, Napoli (11/95)

"Andres Serrano: The Morgue" Ugo Ferranti, Rome, March 1995

Portfolio, Edinburgh, Scotland (8/12 - 9/23/95)

David Floria Gallery, Woody Creek, CO (3/3-30/95)

"Andres Serrano: Works 1983-93," travels to: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1/27 - 4/9/95); Center for the Fine Arts, Miami (5/6 -7/30/95); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (9/30 - 11/26/95); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (12/9/95 - 2/4/96); Malmö Konsthall, Sweden (3/30 - 5/19/96)

1994 "Andres Serrano: Works 1983-93," Institute for Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (11/10/94-1/15/95), travelling

"The Morgue," Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal (10/20/94 - 1/8/95)

"Budapest," Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (10/1/94 - 100/26/94)

"Budapest," Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris (9/17/94 - 10/29/94)

"The Morgue," Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm, Sweden (9/1/94 - 10/8/94)

Galerija Dante Marino Cettina, Umag, Croatia (7/16/94 - 8/25/94)

Alfonzo Artiaco, Naples (1/94 - 2/94)

"The Church Series," Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (2/8/94 - 2/19/94)

Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (1/17/94 - 2/23/94), travelled to: Moderna Galerija Ljubliana, Slovenia (3/1/94 - 3/31/94); Magazin 4, Bregenz, Austria (5/7/94 -6/19/94)

Grand-Hornu, Hornu, Belgium (2/11/94 - 3/27/94)

1993 "Selected Works: 1986-1992," Feigen Inc., Chicago (11/19/93 - 1/9/94)

"The Morgue," Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (1/23/93 - 2/20/93)

1992 "The Morgue," Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris (10/17/92 - 11/18/93), travelled to: La Tete d'Obsidienne, Fort Napoleon, la Seyne-sur-Mer, France (3/20/93 - 4/93); Palais du Tau, Reims (5/5/93 - 5/30/93); Grand Hornu, Mons, Belgium (1/94 - 2/94)

Institute of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam, Holland

Zone Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, U.K.

1991 Saatchi Museum, London, U.K.

Gallery Via 8, Tokyo, Japan

"Nomads," Denver Museum of Art, Denver, CO

"KKK Portraits," University of Colorado at Boulder

Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston

Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen, Denmark and Galleri Riis, Oslo, Norway

Seibu, Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan

Yvon Lambert, Paris

1990 Stux Gallery, New York

Gallery Cellar, Nagoya, Japan

Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta

BlumHelman Gallery, Santa Monica

Gallery Hibbel, Tokyo, Japan

The Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan

1989 Stux Gallery, New York

1988 Stux Gallery, New York

Greenberg/Wilson Gallery, New York

1987 Galerie Hufkens-Noirhomme, Brussels, Belgium

1986 "The Unknown Christ," Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art, New York

1985 Leonard Perlson Gallery, New York

Artist's Gallery


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