Piss Christ is a 1987 photograph by the American artist and photographer Andres Serrano. It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine. The piece was a winner of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art's "Awards in the Visual Arts" competition, which was sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Governmentagency 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, and $5,000 in 1986 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.The work was vandalized at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, and gallery officials reported receiving death threats in response to Piss Christ. Supporters argued that the controversy over Piss Christ is an issue of artistic freedom and freedom of speech.
Sister Wendy Beckett, an art critic and Catholic nun, stated in a television interview with Bill Moyers that she regarded the work as not blasphemous but a statement on "what we have done to Christ": that is, the way contemporarysociety has come to regard Christ and the values he represents.
During a retrospective of Serrano's work at the National Gallery of Victoria 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.
Piss Christ was included in "Down by Law", a "show within a show" on identity politics and disobedience that formed part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial. The British Channel 4 TV documentary Damned in the USA explored the controversy surrounding Piss Christ.
On April 17, 2011, a print of Piss Christ was vandalized "beyond repair" by Christian protesters while on display during the Je crois aux miracles (I believe in miracles) exhibition at the Collection Lambert, a contemporary art museum in Avignon, France. Serrano's photo The Church was similarly vandalized in the attack.
Beginning September 27, 2012, Piss Christ was on display at the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in New York, at the Andres Serrano show "Body and Spirit."Religious groups and some lawmakers called for President Barack Obamato denounce the artwork, comparing it to the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims that the White House had condemned earlier that month.