Andres Serrano likes to get dirty. He is known for photographs of dead bodies, disturbing nudes, and works that involve urine, blood, and shit. His most famous work, Piss Christ, is a photo of a crucifix submerged in his own pee, an act meant to get people riled up. For his newest work, Serrano is once again elevating a lowly subject, but this time the controversy in his work may be unintentional.
For "Sign of the Times," Serrano walks the streets of New York for hours, crouching next to homeless people and offering them $20 for the signs they use to beg. While Serrano describes himself as a savior in a piece for The Guardian—"He looked at me as if I was an angel from heaven. He had pennies in his cup and couldn't believe I wanted to give him $20 for his sign. He said, 'Now, I can get a bed and a meal.'"—his project may be more exploitative than revolutionary.
Serrano calls himself as a "collector" of homeless sings. Art collectors buy up art with the hope that it will be worth a lot more money one day. With Serrano's name attached to them, his homeless signs can sell for way above $20. And it is highly unlikely that the creators of these signs will see a penny.
Even if Serrano didn't have plans to sell his work, he is represented by a gallery, Yvon Lambert Gallery, a business whose main goal is to sell the work of its artists. Serrano's works range between $6,000 and $42,000.
Serrano describes his surprise at how willing homeless people are to give up their signs. "But I also think that those who possess little have less attachment to material things. They know what it's like to live with less," he reasons. This judgement that poor people are morally superior is an outdated fantasy. Maybe homeless people are so willing to give up their signs because they are desperate.
'"Sign of the Times' is a reaction to a social injustice and tragedy," writes Serrano. "It's a testimony to the homeless men and women who roam the streets in search of food and shelter. It's also a chronicle of the times we live in." This may be a story of social injustice, but Serrano isn't participating in the injustice? 'Sign of the Times' certainly is a chronicle of the times we live in. It's just not the chronicle that Serrano meant to tell.
[via The Guardian]