Magazine article The New Yorker

Teen Beat

Magazine article The New Yorker

Teen Beat

Article excerpt


--Emma Allen

The photographer Andres Serrano's most famous work is "Piss Christ" (1987), a picture of a crucifix submerged in the artist's urine. Its exhibition launched a crusade by the late senator Jesse Helms to revoke N.E.A. funding for art he didn't like. ("He is not an artist. He is a jerk," Helms told the Senate.) The other morning, Serrano, now sixty-three, tested a new method of provocation: he was expected at the headquarters of Scholastic, Inc., in SoHo, to judge photos submitted by twelfth graders to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition, and he was late.

"Where's Andres?" asked Casey Kelbaugh, another judge, a photographer who runs the nonprofit Slideluck (potlucks featuring art slide shows).

"Maybe we can just start looking at the works?" the third judge, the gallerist Julie Saul, proposed.

There were twelve hundred and forty-eight images to sort through. They would be projected on a screen at the front of a very red room: red carpet, red U-shaped table, red chairs--decor inspired by Clifford the Big Red Dog. Following an elimination round, thirty-seven to forty-six of the photographs would be awarded gold medals and sixty-two to eighty-seven silver, based on originality, technical skill, and "emergence of personal vision."

"Sorry I'm late," Serrano said as he slunk in. He had on a white tuxedo shirt with a popped collar, a black vest, and sweatpants tucked into black Alexander McQueen boots.

A moderator clicked through JPEGs of the photographs. "There's an Ophelia thing going on here," Saul said, after the third or fourth image of a soggy woman.

"It's just so high school," Kelbaugh said, approvingly, of a photograph of a young man, his mouth stuffed with fries, getting hit in the face with a burger and soda next to a McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" logo. "He's got a big advertising career ahead of him." (Gold.)

An image of a dead squirrel with a bouquet of flowers in its paws and a cherry stuffed in its mouth elicited laughter. "I always say, if art can be good and funny, that's really great," Saul said. (Silver.)

Serrano and Saul gasped at a sepia image of a wrinkly puppy. "Well, he's adorable," Saul said.

"All those folds!" Serrano whispered. (Gold.)

A Christmas-card-ready group portrait depicted a gaggle of young men in clingy sweaters. "I think that it has no irony, which is really disturbing," Saul said. …

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