Today we have a special edition of THAT’S METAL! It seemed like an appropriate day for this, since yesterday has passed, the world has not ended, and so fas as I know, there haven’t been any documented instances of anyone taken up into the clouds by The Rapture. But this edition of THAT’S METAL! isn’t going to be what you probably think it will be.
Having some vicious fun at the expense of one goofball evangelical minister or his delusional goofball followers would be too easy, and it wouldn’t cause anyone to do any actual thinking. And while it’s true that provoking serious thought isn’t part of the official NCS mission statement, on rare occasions we do make a stab at it. Today will be one of those days.
So, if you read the title of this post and were expecting cynical mockery of self-styled prophets of Judgment Day, or Christianity, or even religion generally, you won’t find that here (at least not today). There is a connection between the fallacious May 21 Rapture prediction and the point(s) of this post, but it may not be obvious.
And as for the point(s) of this post, well, I don’t intend to make that explicit either, mainly because I don’t really get off on preaching, or listening to preaching, for that matter. Besides, this post has as much to do with what makes good and bad art (including metal music) as it does with anything else. So, draw your own conclusions — and if you start to get bored, you can just skip to the bottom of the post and listen to some actual metal.
Our starting point for this bit of mental exercise is that photograph at the top of the post. It was made in 1987 by a New York artist named Andres Serrano. It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s own urine — hence, the name “Piss Christ“. It was one of a series of photographs that Serrano made involving classical statuettes submerged in various fluids—milk, blood, and urine.
Not surprisingly, it generated immense controversy when it was first exhibited in 1989 — and it hit the headlines again last month when protesters vandalized the photograph at an exhibition in France. More about that in a minute — but you might start thinking now about this question: What message do you think Andres Serrano was trying to convey?
First, a bit of background about the “Piss Christ” photo from The Font of All Human Knowledge:
The piece was a winner of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art’s “Awards in the Visual Arts” competition, which is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Government agency that offers support and funding for artistic projects. . . .
The piece caused a scandal when it was exhibited in 1989, with detractors, including United States Senators Al D’Amato and Jesse Helms, outraged that Serrano received $15,000 for the work, part of it from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. Serrano received death threats and hate mail, and lost grants due to the controversy. Others alleged that the government funding of Piss Christ violated separation of church and state. . . .
During a retrospective of Serrano’s work at the National Gallery of Victoria [Australia] in 1997, the then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, sought an injunction from the Supreme Court of Victoria to restrain the National Gallery of Victoria from publicly displaying Piss Christ, which was not granted. Some days later, one patron attempted to remove the work from the gallery wall, and two teenagers later attacked it with a hammer. The director of the NGV cancelled the show, allegedly out of concern for a Rembrandt exhibition that was also on display at the time.
To bring us up to date, here are excerpts from an April 18, 2011, news story in the online edition of The Guardian newspaper (UK):
When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.
Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.
The photograph had been shown in France several times without incident. For four months, it has hung in the exhibition I Believe in Miracles, to mark 10 years of art-dealer Yvon Lambert‘s personal collection in his 18th-century mansion gallery in Avignon. The show is due to end next month, but two weeks ago a concerted protest campaign began.
Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ “odious” and said he wanted this “trash” taken off the gallery walls. Last week the gallery complained of “extremist harassment” by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France.
On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.
But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.
Sister Wendy Beckett is a Catholic nun, a “consecrated virgin”, and an art critic. She was born in South Africa, raised in Scotland, and became a nun in 1946 at the age of 16. She was sent to England and studied at St Anne’s College at Oxford, where she was awarded a first class (with distinction) degree in English literature. Late in her life, she became a student of art and narrated a series of acclaimed art history and art appreciation documentaries for the BBC.
In 1997, she gave a televised interview to American newsman Bill Moyers that was aired on PBS. In this excerpt, Moyers asks her about the “Piss Christ” photograph. Listen to what she had to say about it — and about art that’s “comforting”, art that “makes demands”, the point in time when art should be judged — and nudity. She’s a tiny, owlish, lisping, buck-toothed creature shrouded in a nun’s habit, but appearances can be deceiving.
By the way, here’s the painting that Sister Wendy and Moyers were discussing in part of that video clip:
Excerpts from some metal lyrics:
Where are we now?
When we are blind
You left behind
Were you betrayed?
Or did you lie?
Our common fate
Our common demise
And so we rise
Just to fall down
You’re never found
Face down, arms out
Nailed to the cross of doubt
Blood runs like rain
Drowning for this world in vain
And now some actual metal. Of course, it’s Fear Factory playing “Pisschrist” from the Demanufacture album. This clip is high-quality film of a live performance in April 1999. Maybe this is the only thing about the post that’s metal, but I don’t think so. Maybe there’s nothing to be learned from any of this, but I hope not.
Thanks to NCS writer Andy Synn for sending me the link to that story from The Guardian, which caused me to start exploring and led to the rest of this post.
P.S. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus will “definitely” or “probably” return for the faithful before 2050.