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Andres Serrano, America and Other Work Hardcover – 29 Oct 2004
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Top customer reviews
To give a little perspective on this man - how many internationally reknowned black American photographers can you name? And - unlke President Obama in his career choice - this guy has got all the way on his own merit. He's the real thing - a visionary with a decades deep body of work that continually displays both moral courage and intelligence.
He's an aesthete and a thinker. The book's first half portraits work as pairs, both visually (turned in on each other) and more profoundly through the descriptive notes. For instance a barbie-doll perfect 4 year old girl next to a handsome aging junkie, or a World War II veteran beside a neo-nazi, or a cowboy by a native american indian. Crucial to the stature of these diptychs is that everyone is treated the same, with dignity. It is left to us to make what we will of the propositions within the notes but each sitter has been given equal reverence. To maintan a judgmental position about people feels a bit inconsequential in the face of such a display of compassion.
I first saw Serrano's massive 60 inch prints at Tate Modern a few years ago, at their 'Street and Studio' exhibition. His huge 'Nomad' images were standouts amidst what was a strong show. Part of their achievement was in that same dignity granted to his homeless subjects, they were as elevated by his camera as if they were presidential portraits.
One aspect to the work is the photographer's Catholic background which has shaped his vision in several ways but the challenge he presents is that the religious iconography he was exposed to as a child has been transmuted into a relentless search for the sacred in the profane. Whether this is in the 'Early Works' or notorious images like 'Piss Christ' - find Sister Wendy's thoughts on this on Youtube - or in 'History of Sex' or 'The Morgue' it is always rippling through to the surface. The ambivalence he feels is intriguingly never resolved but there is no doubt it energises his language.
He has said that for him half the satisfaction is in negotiating the projects, they often deal with subjects that he is frightened off - The Ku Klux Klan members and cadavours for instance, for obvious reasons - but in finding a way to his subject says much about his artistic purposefulness in the face of personal and practical obstacles.
For many the latter half of this book will simply be too difficlt, there is no easy way around this fact. Serrano has challenged himself for whatever reason and it's a similarly personal decision to be made by anyone about to engage with the evidence he has brought back with him. At the end of the day it may not be your concern - but for anyone to loftily dismiss these works without giving them a fair consideration would be a huge mistake. If not now then at some time in your life you may recognise the validity in these images and that they are prepared to address our humanity, our divinity even, within the frailties of our flesh to an extent that few artists ever chose to do.
I'd like to finish on a personal note; in my opinion the photograph, 'Fatal Meningitis II 1992' has as much breath-taking resonance (both in it's agonising, shocking grace and its rawness) as the very greatest works of art - in any form.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The second half of the book is dedicated to other series. Unfortunately these hover precariously between banality, vulgarity and sheer tastelessness, regularly lapsing into one or the other. As his infamous "Piss Christ" (also featured) proved, Serrano is one of those artists who cannot quite distinguish shock value from artistic impact. And there sure are some easy shockers here: a toddler dangling from a noose; a menstruating woman spreadeagled in a chair; a man being urinated in the mouth; and most disturbing of all, several images of mutilated or burnt corpses in a morgue. Of course such images have a strong impact; but that has little to do with their artistic qualities, and everything with their subject matter. In that regard the "Bodily Fluids" and "Immersions" series, being more abstract, are in my opinion actually more succesful, even though the idea behind the former again strikes me as too obvious, and the latter as juvenile. But whatever your respons, this book does represent a body of work that has an accepted place in modern photography and deserves to be seen. Serrano could not have wished for a more lavishly produced volume.
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