Pope Francis left faithful Catholics and Christians all over the world shocked this weekend when he decided to welcome a group of 200 avant-garde artists to the Sistine Chapel, which included Andres Serrano, a photographer who created the highly controversial “Piss Christ” piece which features a crucifix submerged in a glass container full of urine.
According to Breitbart News, Pope Francis was receiving the artists as a means of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the contemporary art collection stored at the Vatican, going on to inform the artists that just like the prophets in the pages of Scripture, “you confront things that at times are uncomfortable; you criticize today’s false myths and new idols, its empty talk, the ploys of consumerism, the schemes of power.”
“You can see things both in depth and from afar, like sentinels who strain their eyes, peering into the horizon and discerning deeper realities,” the pope went on to say to the group of assembled artists. “In doing so, you are called to reject the allure of that artificial, skin-deep beauty so popular today and often complicit with economic mechanisms that generate inequality.”
Many individuals consider the image created by Serrano in 1987 — which got major media attention at the time — as being blasphemous toward God. The artist, who claims to be a Catholic, put the crucifix in a glass full of his own urine.
When the “Piss Christ” image was put on display in 1989, a group of 50 U.S. senators and 150 representatives launched complaints about the exhibit over the fact that it was being funded with taxpayer dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts. As a result, the budget for the NEA was slashed. The photograph did have its fair share of supporters as well, with many claiming it was a display of artistic freedom and freedom of speech.
Australian Archbishop George Pell did not see things the same way. Pell sought to have the exhibit slapped with an injunction in 1997 from the Supreme Court of Victoria in order to stop the National Gallery of Victoria from putting the photograph on display.
Pope Francis spoke to the artists last Friday saying their art “strives to act as a conscience critical of society, unmasking truisms.” He then said, “You want to make people think, to be alert; you want to reveal reality also in its contradictions and in those things that it is more comfortable and convenient to keep hidden.”
Another highly controversial artist, Abel Ferrara, was also invited to attend the event. He recently directed the the movie “Padre Pio,” starring Shia LaBeouf, however his early career was launched by directing pornographic movies in the late 1970s. His second film was a highly disturbing slasher flick called “The Driller Killer,” which is all about an artist who loses his mind and goes on a killing spree with a power drill. Interestingly, Ferrara played the role of the artist in the film.
“As visionaries, men and women of discernment, critical consciences, I consider you allies in so many things that are dear to me, like the defense of human life, social justice, concern for the poor, care for our common home, universal human fraternity,” Francis said to the artists in during his speech.
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