French museum reopens after Piss Christ hammer attack

The museum in southern France where a controversial photograph, Immersion (Piss Christ), was attacked on Sunday, reopened Tuesday with tightened security. The attack came after Christian groups dubbed the work blasphemous and called for it to be removed from display. 

The photo after the attack
The photo after the attack AFP

Around 20 people were waiting outside the Lambert Collection Museum of Contemporary Art when the doors opened for the first time since two visitors attacked the exhibit with a hammer and a screwdriver-like device on Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Extra staff were employed to check bags at the entrance to the museum, and plain clothes police officers circulated inside the museum. Some of the staff say they have received death threats.

A museum attendant was molested during the attack, according to Lambert Collection official Stéphane Ibers.

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"The works are not damaged, they are destroyed," Ibers said. "Andres Serrano's works are made in such a way as to mean that, if you attack their surfaces with a hammer, they are completely destroyed."

Another work, depicting the hands of a meditating nun, was also attacked.

Piss Christ, created in 1976, is a photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in urine, which Andres Serrano says is his own. The New York-based photographer says the work is a condemnation of the "billion-dollar Christ-for-profit industry".

The photograph has outraged some Christians in France. At the beginning of April the Roman Catholic bishop of Avignon, Monseigneur Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called the photograph "odious" and called for it to be removed.

"We are not the Christ who turned the other cheek," declared a leaflet for a demonstration, which mobilised 800 people outside the museum on Saturday. "We will drive the moneylenders from the temple."

Civitas, a group which declares that its aim is to rechristianise France, launched an online petition against it and won support from other fundamentalist groups.

The work was also the subject of uproar in 1987 in the United States, when it won a prize.
France's Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand has condemned Sunday's vandalism as "an attack on a basic principle, the exhibition of these works being fully in line with the freedom of creation and expression enshrined in law".

But he also recognised that the picture could shock some people.

Meanwhile, in an interview with a French newspaper today, Serrano said he is a Christian, not a blasphemer, and has no sympathy for blasphemy. He said he was shocked by the reaction to his photograph and described himself as a “Christian artist”.

“I would like to work at the Vatican, to create a major piece of religious art in the churches of the Papal city,” Serrano told Libération, “I would like the Holy See to understand that I am a profoundly Christian artist of my time”.

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