Posted at 01:56 PM ET, 04/19/2011

Another painting attacked: Is controversial art an endangered species?


Attacked art: Still on display (JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER - REUTERS)
An angry gash and broken glass now accompany Andres Serrano’s long-controversial “Piss Christ,” 24 years after the New York artist completed the photograph and two weeks after a woman’s attack on a Paul Gauguin painting made national news.

Reuters reported that the piece was damaged Sunday by three vandals aided by “a hammer and an object like a screwdriver or pickaxe,” according to a statement by the Collection Lambert, the French museum where the photograph was on display.

“Piss Christ,” a work Serrano soaked in a small cup of his own urine, received an award from a program affiliated with the governement-funded National Endowment for the Arts in 1989, sparking a debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate.(This year, the NEA will see its funding cut by $13 million as a result of 2011 federal spending cuts.)

A second Serrano photograph, “The Church,” depicting the torso of a nun with her hands in her lap, was also vandalized.


Even after the damage, “Piss Christ” will remain on display. (JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER - REUTERS)
The vandalism comes just over two weeks after 53-year-old Susan Burns attacked Paul Gauguin’s “Two Tahitian Women” in the National Gallery of Art. The attack left the art world anticipating copycat attacks.

“I feel that Gauguin is evil,” Burns told investigators after her arrest. ”He has two women in the painting and it’s very homosex­ual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned.”

Burns, who has a history of mental illness, followed up her art criticism with, ”I am from the American CIA, and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.”

Though she banged her fist against the plexiglass encasement, Burns wasn’t able to significantly damage the Gauguin painting. The motive for the latest attack — along with the mental state of the protesters in France — remains unknown, but news of people attacking art — or just talking about it — is appearing more frequently.

It’s easy to see how shock art would whip protesters into a frenzy — especially if the piece in question has a name like “Piss Christ.” In fact, this isn’t the first time the piece has been attacked. But lately the boundaries that typically keep verbal protest and blunt force separate are weakening. How should museums approach displaying controversial art? Should security be heightened? And, are there some cases in which censoring art is acceptable, like the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” at the Smithsonian?

Tell us by using #endangeredart and we’ll post your comments back into this blog. In the meantime, read about “Two Tahitian Women,” “Piss Christ” and other pieces in our April 4 roundup of infamous — and, as we thought then, endangered — art here.

By  |  01:56 PM ET, 04/19/2011

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