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Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium exhibit the work of Andres Serrano
Death Unknown, 1992. Cibachrome, silicone, plexiglass, wood frame, 114,3 × 96,52 cm © Andres Serrano Private Collection.

BRUSSELS.- On 18 March 2016, the exhibtion “Andres Serrano. Uncensored Photographs” opened its doors at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

Through his photography, Andres Serrano unveils an often disturbing reality. Relgion, death, sex or violence are omnipresent in the retrospective exhibition – the largest one ever organized. But beyond these powerful topics and past the “Piss Christ” controversy, the exhibition reveals Serrano as an attentive witness to the world and mankind. Five works which were judged as scandalous and destroyed during previous exhibitions will also be on display, thus questioning the limits of censorship.

Simultaneously, the Museums – in the streets of Brussels – presents Serrano’s brand new series “Denizens of Brussels”, striking portraits of the capital’s homeless.

Andres Serrano, a controversial artist
Born in 1950 in New York, Andres Serrano studied painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Although he takes photographs, the artist does not consider himself a photographer, but more a visual artist who uses photography as a medium. The work of Serrano, like that of Mapplethorpe, was at the center of cultural wars in 1989, when his photography “Piss Christ” ignited a national debate on the freedom of artistic expression and the public financing of controversial artworks.

A complete retrospective
The exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of the artist’s series by placing them in their historical and social context: provocation and iconoclasm, blasphemy and critical testimony of a world in dereliction, a human story of the individual in its singularity. This way, it takes us into the world and mind of the artist.

The series:
• “Immersions” and “Bodily Fluids” unveil both the pictorial – almost abstract – dimension of his work and the importance of Christian religion in it.

• The portrait, another capital and recurring dimension, is especially present through, among others, “Nomads”, “The Klan” and “America”, testimonies of a suffering humanity.

• “The Church” and “Holy Works” question his Christian faith.

• Emblematic works like “The Morgue”, “Objects of Desire” and “The Interpretation of Dreams” allow the viewer to go beyond the picture to reach the conscience of humanity itself.

• With “Cuba” and “Jerusalem”, he introduces the place as a subject in itself. Both projects significantly transformed his way of looking at things.

• Finally, with the “Residents of New York” and the “Denizens of Brussels”, the experience of the place transforms the art of the portrait by creating a work that both sadly topical and timeless.

• His latest series “Torture” closes the course.

Provocation or realism?
Beyond the provocation that his work is often too quickly reduced to, Andres Serrano has a desire to show the world we have created. The latent exhibitionism at the basis of his research is only the expression of a deep inner need: to reveal the reality of human processes with strong imagery. With work that focuses on the form - framing, cutting, composition, treatment of light, articulation of plastic masses - the picture is a reference to great art and the tradition of classical painting, beautifying the photographic moment in a monumental way. The work of Serrano takes a useful look at our troubled society in which mankind becomes a stranger to itself. By showing Serrano, the RMFAB show the values that shape us. Against barbarism and intolerance. Against obscurantism and inhumanity.

Five vandalized works exhibited
Three acts of vandalism against works by Serrano (Melbourne in 1997, Sweden in 2007 and Avignon in 2011) have been committed.

Five vandalized works – mainly form the series “History of Sex” – are on display in the retrospective exhibition. A lot of didactic material (exhibition texts, audio-guide, video) contextualize the work of Serrano and explain the circumstances of the attacks on his art. Further, a richly illustrated educational file (see appendix) is available online and invites visitors to reflect on provocation, artistic iconoclasm, and censorship.

In order to protect our audiences, the RMFAB have decided to warn the visitors with clear labelling as “not suitable for under 16” Only the parents will decide whether to take or not their teenage children behind the scenes of human society… Scenes recreated on site: the most sensitive photographs are exhibited in a separate room, barred by a curtain repeating the same warning sign.

Serrano in the Streets of Brussels
Simultaneously, the Museums will – in the streets of Brussels – present Serrano’s brand new series “Denizens of Brussels”, striking portraits of Brussels’ homeless. (18 March to 30 April 2016)

During the preparations for their last major exhibition, "2050. A Brief History of the Future," which extensively discussed the issue of poverty, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts asked Andres Serrano to create a work in Brussels. Just like with the series on New York’s homeless “Residents of New York", the artist traveled the streets of our capital in February and March 2015 to meet Brussels’ poorest.

The result of this immersion in the shadows of Brussels is a series of strong and touching portraits. Alongside the retrospective at the Museums, photographs will be on display for a month in different parts of the capital (bus shelters, posters, etc.). These displays, accessible to everyone, have been set up by the City of Brussels. It echoes the display of "Residents of New York" in the halls of the local metro in 2014.

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