Upon first glance, these two pictures appear to be primary-colored monochromes: at their five-foot-wide scale, they are not unlike the modernist paintings found elsewhere in the Museum. Only after closer inspection—and a peek at the works’ titles, Blood and Piss—might we speculate that these luminous pictures are actually photographs of bodily fluids. Sometimes representation and abstraction can “coexist in the same image,” as Serrano has said. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have to choose.” Serrano’s work—particularly his photograph Piss Christ (1987), made the same year as Blood and Piss—drew controversy during the 1980s “culture wars,” provoking debate regarding obscenity, censorship, and the role of government funding in the arts. Informed by his Catholic upbringing, and combining his interests in the history of painting with the slickness of high-production photography, Serrano’s lurid images both repel and seduce the viewer.
These two photographs are from a group of over 30 works made between the 1960s and the 2000s that were a recent gift to the Museum from The Abramson Collection. The gift also includes remarkable examples of Conceptual art, portraiture, and photographs by members of the Pictures Generation, among many other works.