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A response to the historical use of torture as a ruthless form of experimentation, psychological degradation, and physical punishment, Serrano completed his disturbing photographic series titled Torture in 2015. Depicting some of his subjects naked, others cloaked, bloodied, masked, and beaten down, Torture was executed at The Foundry, a factory-turned-art space in Maubourguet, France.
“Under the guidance of military personnel, Serrano photographed more than 40 models in degrading positions, using devices that were produced on-site by the local residents,” the Station Museum explains of the central works in their upcoming exhibition. “The models suffered humiliation and actual physical distress as they were shackled, submerged and forced into stress positions for extended periods of time.”
From June through October 2017, Torture will be placed in juxtaposition to a photograph of Trump from the artist’s America (2001-2004) series. The decision to pair the two comes on the heels of Trump’s public announcement that “torture works,” which he brazenly insisted on the campaign trail to presidency.
The placement of Trump’s portrait alongside Serrano’s fantastically profane body of work is sure to stir the pot yet again. Piss Christ (1987) in particular—a photograph from Serrano’s Immersions (1987-1990) series depicting a crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine, also on view as part of ANDRES SERRANO / TORTURE at the Station Museum this year—was the focal point of an all-out “culture war” between progressives and conservatives in 1989, following its exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The outcry from right-wing politicians and religious groups was akin to Trump’s personal denouncement of Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996) following its exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. The mixed media artwork that Trump called “absolutely gross, degenerate stuff” is in the same league as Serrano’s oeuvre; and it was Ofili’s portrayal of the Madonna through fecal matter and pornographic collages that precipitated the now-president’s call for the destruction of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Now that the NEA is properly on the chopping block, another culture war seems inevitable. “Society is numbed, in a world seemingly apathetic to the global web of covert state-sanctioned torture policies,” the Station Museum says. “Believing that these heinous techniques are used for our own security, we give up our freedoms to become slaves, metaphorically shackled and humiliated by our own naivety. Serrano offers a way out – inviting the audience to adopt his gaze. Now the torturers, we are aroused.”
ANDRES SERRANO / TORTURE will remain on view at the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1502 Alabama Street, Houston, Texas 77004 until October 8, 2017.