Earlier this week, the famously shocking "Immersion (Piss Christ)" was destroyed by Christian protesters in France. The photograph of a crucifix suspending in bright orange urine by Andres Serrano has literally pissed people off since it was created in 1987.
According to the Guardian, "Piss Christ" has been assaulted before, but this incident is the worst to date, with a group of people entering the museum on Palm Sunday, threatening guards and then smashing the work with a hammer and slashing it with another sharp object.
This has been a tough stretch for controversial art. Late last year in Loveland, Enrique Chagoya's work depicting Jesus receiving oral sex was damaged by an enraged Christian woman.
(She later pled guilty and was ordered to pay restitution, but not before launching her website, givegodlove.com, explaining her actions. Ironic title, if you ask me.)
Anyway, if anything good comes out of the "Piss Christ" attack, it's Jonathan Jones' opinion piece on the incident, also in the Guardian.
Jones writes that the work is the original piece of shock art, but draws strength in its relation to works such as Matthias Grünewald's chilling Isenheim Altarpiece, which features Jesus' festering, nearly lifeless body hacked to a crude crucifix. It's unpleasant, but it's rightly considered to be a masterpiece for its execution and its harsh take on divine love. (No sugarcoating for the sick, who prayed at this altar.)
Serrano says the work is a criticism of forced, mass-produced Christianity, but some see it in the compassionate sense: that Jesus is with them when they feel the world has pissed on them.
But its versatility is the key. To finish, Jones says:
The suffering of Christ is seen through a glass, darkly — or in this case shines through yellow urine, glowing uncannily within the stinking detritus of the body.
There's something in this powerful work of art for everyone. Atheists can savour its insult, Christians can meditate on the victory of the spirit in the humiliation of the flesh. Meanwhile, the easily provoked will never fail to have their anger aroused by a work of art that is spoiling for a fight.