Going to the Morgue with Andres Serrano (Academic)

Originally displayed in Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City’s SoHo district, Andres Serrano’s The Morgue series continued the artist’s controversial and transgressive work. Set against a black backdrop in a mortuary, he photographed dead bodies in different stages of decomposition. In this article, I borrow from Charles Taylor’s cultural analysis of the secular and Flannery O’Connor’s literary theory of the revelatory power of the grotesque to discuss Serrano’s artistic choices. In essence, I argue that his work is not a desecration of humanity but a stark reminder of the sacralization of humanity. As such, Serrano’s work is not provocative for provocation’s sake, but a provocation to poke holes in a disenchanted age. Underneath Serrano’s images is the question: if this is a heap of flesh, why are you provoked? In a culture that avoids death at all costs, Serrano reminds the contemporary world of their mortality with an updated form of memento mori art.

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