Critics’ Picks

Andres Serrano, Untitled XX (Torture), 2015, ink-jet print, 65 x 55".


Andres Serrano

The School - Jack Shainman Gallery
25 Broad Street
January 7 - April 8

Against all odds, much of Andres Serrano’s photographic work remains intact. While the publicly funded Piss Christ (Immersions), 1987, is absent from this selection, a history of volatile reception lurks like a shadow throughout the exhibition. This is overtly legible in his series “History of Sex,” 1995–96, a collection of evenly lit portraits of diverse sexual practices. During a 2007 showing in Sweden, neo-Nazis mauled the framed photographs with crowbars and axes, and, in a telling gesture, the only face undisturbed among the works on view here belongs to an image of a pale man with a blond buzz cut. Following the incident, Serrano applied red semitransparent tape over the damaged sections of the other photos. It conceals as much as it repairs, deftly integrating extremist reaction into the work itself.

In his photographic series “Torture,” 2015, the artist digs into other systemic forms of violence. Each image shows a lone figure (sometimes an actual prisoner of war) assuming the role of a torture victim. These photographs of hooded men appear like staged versions of the viral image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, which was revealed in 2004 along with other American abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Serrano saw his artwork become the catalyst for threats to abolish the NEA in 1989, with Newt Gingrich lamenting that some facets of publicly funded art are “designed to undermine our civilization.” But surely it is better that Serrano’s art alludes to the federal money that subsidizes torture and prejudiced legislation than never addressing it at all.