Haute Art: Contemporary Art and Religion

Art and religion were always linked together. First sponsors and art collectors were priests, archbishops, and those who belong to the clergy, weren’t they? Monarchs, notables and clergy were the keystone of the art market. Religion always played a large part in history of art. One remembers that clergy entrusted artists with decoration of churches. On the other hand one also remembers that they sentenced them during Inquisition. Religion inspired classical art, Renaissance art, modern art, and contemporary art.

Philippe Perrin, a French artist born, is most known for his sculptures of monumental scale weapons, handcuffs, knifes, razorblades, American punches… Expanding everyday objects gives them a new meaning, another interpretation and it’s even stronger when it comes to weapons. His references are provided by the gangsta aesthetic but also by the classic literature and romantic poetry. He perfectly knows how to be provocative, cynical, and manipulative while remaining charming and seductive. “When an object or its image is made considerably larger, the primary message disappears leaving space to another message of identifical form and different contents.” Heaven (2006) is an enormous and impressive sculpture that actually represents barbed wire made out of aluminium. By expanding barbed wires, guns, knifes… he gives to those weapons another dimension. Oversized and immobile, they appear deprived of their murderous potentiality. One forget their violent killer function and one focus on the beauty of the objet itself. Here he puts the emphasis on the relationship between religion and weapons. Religion wouldn’t it be a weapon? It might be if one thinks about all the wars that started from a religious quarrel. Heaven wouldn’t it be the exact representation of the Jesus Christ’s crown-of-thorns? If not why would a church takes the responsability of showing a huge weapon such as this one? Once he said : “I’ll go to Heaven. I have spent my life in Hell”…

Perrin’s work can question the viewer but it definitely can’t shock him as much as Andre Serrano’s photograph untitled Immersion, Piss Christ, a small work of art (23.6 x 15.7 inches) made in 1987. The main subject of this work is a small crucifix immersed in a glass of urine and blood that was photographed by Serrano himself. “I took a crucifix, because it is a commonplace object, at least in America […]. If using blood, urine, tears, my representation triggers reactions, it is also a reminder to everyone for how horrible Christ has risen”. No wonder why public and institutions were yelled at him and blamed him to blaspheme the figure of the Christ ! In 1989, Piss Christ is rewarded with a prize of SECCA that trigger reactions throughout the country. The artist is accused of blapsheme not only by religious groups but also by members of the Senate unworthy the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. However Serrano will be supported by a nun, also an art critic, Sister Wendy Beckett, who said that it could mean the testimony of the horrors did to Christ. Regarding the title of the work, Serrano, who’s Catholic, said: “My titles have a literal character and are simply descriptive. If I make a monochrome made of milk or blood, I call it “milk” or “blood”. “More recently, the Fundamentalist Catholic movements have demanded the withdrawal of Piss Christ exhibition “I Believe In Miracles” hosted by the Yvon Lambert Collection in Avignon in December 2010 to May 2011 . Following the death threats that have surrounded this exhibition, Andre Serrano complained to the High Court of Avignon …

Photograph Pierre Commoy and painter Gilles Blanchard, also known as “Pierre et Gilles”, are well-known for their photographs that they touch up with paint. They’re influenced by Pop Art and Bollywood such as pop and gay culture, pornography, religion… Their San Sebastian (1987) looks like more a gay icon posing lasciviously than a tortured saint. The figure is surrounded by luxuriant vegetation, hands are tied by flowers instead of rope and the only clue we have as for the interpretation of the work is the two arrows stuck in his chest. Only there is no blood and his face doesn’t seem to express suffering. Madone With Wounded Heart, 1991, is another work associated with religious vocabulary. The model, Lio, a Belgian-Portuguese actress and singer, assumes here the role of a popular Virgin Mary, a model for her generation. Pierre and Gilles change the traditional and institutional codes through their work and give their own interpretation of the world. A funny, kitch and crazy world…

Art and religion : two trends that will continue to make flowing from ink and sparking off reactions. Opium of the people or peculiar inspiration, religion will undoubtedly always present in art history.

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Born and raised in Paris, Delphine decided to move to NY after graduating from the Sorbonne where she got a master degree in social sciences and history of art mention contemporary art. Once in New York she went to the Christies School and she got a certificate degree. She used to work as an intern during all her studies for an auction house, several galleries and art dealers in both Paris and New York. She’s now working on her first book which is dedicated to contemporary art in general