Region: North America
Artist: Andres Serrano
Confronting Bodies: University of Alabama students and surrounding community
Dates of Action: 1993
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Description of Artwork: Andres Serrano's Pieta II shows a plastic figurine of Michelangelo's statue of the Madonna and Jesus submerged in cow's urine and blood.
The Incident: A county official and university students in Birmingham, Alabama called for the return of a photograph purchased by the university arts department because they considered the work offensive and blasphemous. The University of Alabama's Visual Arts Gallery solicited private donations for the purchase of the photograph. Before exhibiting the work, gallery officials began receiving letters of protest from students and government officials. Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Gunter threatened to vote to withhold funds from the university unless the gallery returned the photograph. University President Charles McCallum issued a statement saying that although he personally found the photograph offensive, he nonetheless supported "free and open discussion of such matters as the nature of art, freedom of speech, and the role of religious beliefs in the academic environment." A motion was passed by the faculty senate supporting the gallery.
Results of Incident: Pieta II is available for viewing by appointment at The Visual Arts Gallery. Sixteen Alabama counties have passed resolutions condemning the gallery's purchase.
Source: Artistic Freedom Under Attack 1994