When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ , he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.
The photograph, full title Immersion (Piss Christ) , was made in 1987 as part of Serrano's series showing religious objects submerged in fluids such as blood and milk. Serrano defended his photograph as a criticism of the billion-dollar
Christ-for-profit industry and a condemnation of those who abuse the teachings of Christ for their own ignoble ends . It was also vandalised in Australia, and neo-Nazis ransacked a Serrano show in Sweden in 2007.
Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other christian groups.
The archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ odious and said he wanted this trash taken off the gallery walls.
Last week the gallery complained of extremist harassment by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France. Lambert, one of France's best known art dealers, complained he was being persecuted by extremists who
had sent him tens of thousands of complaint emails and bombarded the museum with spam. He likened the atmosphere to a return to the middle ages .
On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it. But on
Palm Sunday, four people in sunglasses entered the exhibition. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the
plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object. The attackers also slashed a Serrano photograph of a meditating nun.
The gallery director, Eric Me'zil, said it would reopen with the destroyed works on show so people can see what barbarians can do . He said there had been a kind of inquisition against the art work.
The French culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, condemned the vandalism as an attack on the fundamental freedoms of creation and expression, but recognised that the art work could shock audiences.
William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, held a news conference outside an art gallery in Midtown Manhattan to denounce one of the works of art on display there: a 1987 photograph of a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine.
But, when Mr. Donohue tried to enter the exhibition, the gallery would not allow him in, he said in a blog post. No one else was barred from entering the gallery, he whinged: Just me.
The amber-hued photograph, Immersion (Piss Christ) , has inflamed passions since the New York artist Andres Serrano first displayed it in 1989.
All of which is ironic, Serrano said in an interview. For him, he said, the work is about his personal love of Jesus, and Jesus' bodily torment on the cross, during which, Serrano believes, not only blood, but all Jesus bodily fluids, including
urine, spilled out.
The Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery is displaying 25 of Serrano's works in a retrospective. The controversial piece is being displayed behind bulletproof glass.
Donohue said he decided to protest it now to point out that while the White House condemned the anti-Muslim film Innocence of Muslims, which recently led to global protests, it had not condemned Serrano's work as offensive to Catholics.
Donohue also recorded a video in which he held up a clear jar containing a bobblehead doll of President Obama and a brown substance that Donohue said represented feces. The point, he said, is that the cultural and political elite are basically
secularist; they don't believe in God. This is their god, he said, pointing at the jar.