Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law

Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law

Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law

Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law


Art, value, law - the links between these three terms mark a history of struggle in the cultural scene. Studies of contemporary culture have thus increasingly turned to the image as central to the production of legitimacy, aesthetics and order. Judging the Image extends the cultural turn in legal and criminological studies by interrogating our responses to the image. This book provides a space to think through problems of ethics, social authority and the legal imagination. Concepts of memory and interpretation, violence and aesthetic, authority and legitimacy are considered in a diverse range of sites, including: * body, performance and regulation * judgment, censorship and controversial artworks * graffiti and the aesthetics of public space * HIV and the art of the disappearing body * witnessing, ethics and the performance of suffering * memorial images - art in the wake of disaster.



It's April 1995 and I'm in New York City, coming to the end of a four-month sabbatical. I've started thinking about a book on crime, law and the legitimacy of images, so when I hear about a retrospective exhibition of the work of Andres Serrano at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, I am keen to go - to see for the first time, in gallery space instead of as reproductions, the artworks which became famously contested in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The exhibition occupies the ground floor of the museum. It's an attractive space, and the images, which are huge, are given room to project without overwhelming each other. The exhibition ranges from Serrano's earliest works, like Heaven and Hell (a bishop turning away from a bloodied girl strung from a hook) to his later portraits of hooded Ku Klux Klan members. In between are included the almost abstract shapes produced by close-up photographs of guns, the steady gazes of New York's homeless, and the blocks of colour produced by bodily fluids such as milk and blood. Piss Christ, probably the most notorious of Serrano's images, comes early in the museum, in one of its outer rooms, as befits its chronological position early in Serrano's body of work. It is flanked by others in the Immersions series: Piss Discus and Black Jesus, for example. It is good to see it like this - a work in a series of works, a work to be understood not just in its own right (which is partly how it became so misread and misrecognized in conservative responses to it), but also in relation to other, similar, artworks. All the Immersions images play with fluid, exploiting the effects produced by submerging a solid object in water or urine. Each of the drowned plaster statues is fringed with delicate bubbles which cling to the statue's outline like lacy decorations. Varied lighting effects lead to either the roseate glow found in Piss Christ or to the chiaroscuro of Black Supper III or Black Jesus. Looking at Piss Christ here, it's hard to see how it could have inspired such fury, such hatred and determination, which still reverberates in the chilling to a trickle the financing of contemporary art with federal funds.

After wandering through several rooms, I'm about to turn and leave, when a museum custodian steps forward and calls to me. 'Don't miss the last room, ' he says, gesturing to a small door at the top of a short flight of stairs. 'You won't want to miss that one'. I go up the stairs. They lead to a tiny enclosed

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