Art work that enraged Catholics attacked


IT CAUSED such a scandal in the United States that protests reached the floor of the Senate. An Australian gallery was taken to court for exhibiting it. Now Piss Christ, the controversial work by New York photographer Andres Serrano, has been destroyed by vandals in Avignon.

Police in the southern French city said a number of young men were being sought after the photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in urine, which has drawn protests from Catholic groups, was slashed at the Lambert contemporary art museum on Sunday.

The men entered the gallery at 11.30am, assaulted a guard and smashed a protective plastic screen before destroying the image with what police believe were a hammer and screwdriver or ice-pick. A second Serrano photograph, The Church: Sister Jeanne Myriam,was also targeted.

Piss Christwas shown without incident in France in 2007 and had been on display in Avignon since last December as part of an exhibition entitled “I Believe in Miracles”. In the past two weeks, however, Catholic groups campaigned against the photograph.

The archbishop of Avignon, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called the work “odious” and asked that it be removed, while the Institut Civitas, a Catholic lay organisation, collected 35,000 signatures for a petition against what it considered “anti-Christian discrimination”.

The campaign, supported by local Front National politicians, culminated in a protest attended by more than 800 people outside the Lambert gallery on Saturday.

Piss Christcaused uproar in 1987 when it won its creator a prize underwritten by the National Endowment of the Arts. The late senator Jesse Helms called it an example of publicly funded “slime and sleaze”.

In Melbourne in 1997, it was vandalised with a hammer and the National Gallery of Victoria temporarily closed its exhibition when the Catholic Church took an unsuccessful court action against it.

The Avignon gallery director, Yvon Lambert, complained he was being “persecuted” last week after receiving tens of thousands of e-mails from protesters.

He referred to their demands as “injunctions from the Middle Ages”. Culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand condemned the vandalism as an attack on “the fundamental principles” of freedom of creation and expression.

The Lambert collection said the destroyed works would remain part of the exhibition “so people can see for themselves the violence of these barbarous acts”.