NYC: Andres Serrano works with homeless

Stefano Pirovano

In New York’s subway artist Andres Serrano provokes with big photos of homeless people; but it’s a poor game.

With regards to “Residents of New York”, the new public project by Andres Serrano, we don’t think that the point is to decide whether it is a useful social campaign or it is only the latest sly provocation conceived by an artist who will be remembered as the one who has put a crucifix into a glass of piss (Piss Christ, 1989). Of course it is both things at the same time: displaying photos of Manhattan’s homeless in a down-town subway station will certainly increase people’s awareness about this social problem by shocking them with a photographic interpretation of that problem.

Therefore we would prefer to remember what the Jesuit priest Andrea Dall’Asta – art historian and director of the Centro Culturale San Fedele in Milan – told us about the education to become a Jesuit, which includes a pilgrimage experience of just begging. Or indeed the project “Il mendicante elettronico” by photographer Franco Vaccari (The electronic panhandler, 1973): when a real pan-handler asks money showing his pan – a cap in this case – people don’t look at him and pass by. But if the same cap is shown in a TV screen they stop and pay attention. Moreover, how many journalists “turned into” homeless for a certain period of time to make their report more effective? Once again, the problem with Serrano lies not in the provocation, but indeed in the weakness of his language.

March 27, 2020