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Andres Serrano Images Court Controversy and Rising Prices

The market for Andres Serrano (b. 1950) continues to expand in the United States and Europe. A dozen images of deceased figures in a morgue that were shown at Paris’ Yvon Lambert gallery this past summer, in edition numbers of 3 and 7, saw strong demand, reports gallery associate Elodie Cazes, with works selling to

NEW YORK—The market for Andres Serrano (b. 1950) continues to expand in the United States and Europe. A dozen images of deceased figures in a morgue that were shown at Paris’ Yvon Lambert gallery this past summer, in edition numbers of 3 and 7, saw strong demand, reports gallery associate Elodie Cazes, with works selling to private collectors on both sides of the Atlantic. After the exhibit, Cazes told ARTnewsletter, prices climbed by 30 percent and now range from $16,000/37,000.

In the U.S. Serrano has been represented since the early 1990s by the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Codirector Steve Henry says the “introductory” price for a small, new work (45-by-37 inches, framed) is $15,000; for a larger one (65-by-55 inches, framed), $20,000.

Older images can reach much higher levels. “The fluid works can be $75,000, $85,000, even $95,000,” Henry reports. “For some of the earlier, iconic images, like the Piss Christ [1989], you’re talking $200,000/250,000.” Henry says the Paula Cooper Gallery handles some pieces on the secondary market, as does Yvon Lambert, but most resales appear to occur at auction.

Yvon Lambert, which has represented Serrano in Europe since 1991, offered six of his portraits of members of the Comedie Française at the most recent FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) contemporary art fair in Paris (Oct. 18-22). Two were sold, the gallery reports.

Serranno regularly aims his camera at controversial subjects—from burn victims, sexual bondage and homeless people to members of the Ku Klux Klan and the Catholic clergy.

Body fluids also figure in Serrano’s imagery, such as in the Piss Christ, which reveals a plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of Serrano’s own urine. After the work won an awards competition that was partially sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), some irate activists sought the abolition of the federal arts agency. They were able to cut the NEA budget by 40 percent and to hold off any increases for most of the next decade.

Last month, works by Serrano were vandalized in Lund, Sweden, by a group of four masked men who used crowbars and axes to smash seven 50-by-60-inch images in a show, “The History of Sex.” The vandals, who videotaped and posted footage of their actions online, left behind a pamphlet titled “Against Decadence and for a Healthier Culture.”

Swedish police speculate that the men were part of a Neo-Nazi group, as yet not identified. (All damaged works from that exhibition are being replaced by new prints of the same images, Henry says.)

It wasn’t the first time that works by Serrano have elicited a strong reaction. In 1997, during an exhibition at the Netherlands’ Groninger Museum, paint bombs were thrown and citizens brought suit in a Dutch court to halt distribution of the show’s poster.

The top auction price for Serrano images was set at $214,775 last March at Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Paris, for his 1990 triptych Red Pope I-III, comfortably beyond the $134,000 high estimate.

Other top prices include: $181,182, for Piss Christ, far more than three times the $49,000 high estimate, at Sotheby’s London in 1999; $144,000, for the 1991 five-part Black Supper, more than double the high estimate of $70,000, at Christie’s in 2006; and $108,000, for Red Pope I-III (estimate: $60,000/80,000), at Christie’s in 2000.

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