Pope Francis Welcomes Artists—Including Controversy-Courting Andres Serrano—in a Ceremony Celebrating the Vatican’s Contemporary Art Collection

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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 .

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 .

 

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