Pope Francis Welcomes Artists—Including Andres Serrano of ‘Piss Christ’ Fame—in a Ceremony Celebrating the Vatican’s Contemporary Art Collection

The artist says the pontiff even gave him a 'mischievous smile.'

Commemorating 50 years of the Vatican Museums' Modern and Contemporary Art Collection, Pope Francis meets artists in Sistine Chapel. Courtesy Vatican Media.

Pope Francis hailed artists as seers, dreamers, and visionaries, welcoming some 200 of them to the Sistine Chapel in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican’s contemporary art collection on Friday. 

While Francis noted that some of the artists present are confrontational in their work in order to provoke people to think, he opined that their aim was to achieve harmony and beauty. The beauty of art inspires a desire for God, he said, and renders glory to him. 

“You want to reveal reality also in its contradictions and in those things that it is more comfortable and convenient to keep hidden,” Francis said. “Like the biblical prophets, you confront things that at times are uncomfortable; you criticize today’s false myths and new idols, its empty talk, the ploys of consumerism, the schemes of power.”

Among the artists present was Andres Serrano, whose 1987 photo Immersion (Piss Christ), showing a small plastic crucifix immersed in urine, caused outrage among American politicians like U.S. Senators Alfonse D’Amato and Jesse Helms, and led to funding cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts, which had supported its production. 

“I was surprised to be invited and even more surprised that he gave me a thumbs up,” Serrano told the New York Times. “And I was very happy that the church understands that I am a Christian artist and I am not a blasphemous artist. I’m just an artist.”

The Pope also gave the artist a very particular sign of encouragement.

“It was a great, mischievous smile,” Serrano told the Times.

Also on the roster were Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso, British director Ken Loach, and British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, reports the Times.

The Vatican collection has grown from about 1,000 works when Saint Paul VI inaugurated it in 1973 to some 9,000 today, including pieces by artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana, and Henri Matisse, according to Vatican News.


More Trending Stories:  

A German Museum Came Up With an Insanely Low-Tech Solution to Protect Its Rembrandt Canvas From a Leaky Ceiling 

A 17th-Century Double Portrait of Black and White Women, Said to Be of ‘Outstanding Significance’ Will Remain in the U.K. 

Art Industry News: South Korean Student Thought a Museum Wanted Him to Eat the $120,000 Duct-Taped Banana + Other Stories 

This Famed Dollhouse Is Hung With Tiny Original Artworks, Including a Miniature Duchamp. Here Are Three Things to Know About the One-of-a-Kind Treasure 

The Brooklyn Museum’s Much-Criticized ‘It’s Pablo-matic’ Show Is Actually Weirdly at War With Itself Over Hannah Gadsby’s Art History 

Elisabetta Sirani Painted in Public to Prove Her Work Was Her Own. Here’s How She Became a 17th-Century Star—and Why She’s Being Remembered Now 

The Venice Biennale Has Announced the Highly Anticipated Curatorial Theme of Its 2024 Art Exhibition 

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.