Serrano at House of Golden Rings

The Czech people - at least seen through the eyes of a foreigner - may not be the warmest people in the world, but certainly they are one of the world's most liberal nations. Prague's House of Golden Rings decided to put that to the test when it offered to host one of the most controversial photography exhibitions ever shown in the country. Dita Asiedu is here to tell you more about it:

Organised by the Prague City Gallery, visitors can now see some of the most famous works by the Cuban-Honduran but US-born Andres Serrano. Serrano's work focuses on many taboos in life, including scenes from a morgue, nudity - young and old, bodily fluids, and Christ on a cross emerged in the artist's urine. But according to the exhibition's curator, Vit Havranek, Czech visitors have not found it as shocking as expected:

"We were, of course, interested in the reaction of the Czech people and we are quite surprised that there hasn't been any scandal or any controversy about this exhibition. On the other hand, we can say that Andres Serrano now is quite a classical artist from the 80s."

So who is Andres Serrano? Conservative critics slam his art as sick and perverted - but many say the artist is simply making use of his right to free speech. According to Mr. Havranek, there is more to Serrano's work than meets the eye:

"He is mainly controversial with his photograph called 'Piss Christ' where he works with his own urine and puts the reproduction of Christ into it. But we cannot describe his work literally, we have to see it and we have to say that he is working with the whole context of art, his provocation is always quite focused and quite a precise critic of some special topic or some special problems in American society. It's not just controversial but it's also a kind of social contribution to social debate and social problems - you can also interpret it like this."

Serrano's work was thrust into the limelight with the slightly provocative "Piss Christ", which caused uproar in the United States Senate in 1989. The most outspoken opposition came from the country's Senators, who gathered signatures to protest against Serrano receiving financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Serrano's work, they said, was not art but rather a deplorable, despicable, display of vulgarity. That was in the United States. Here, in the Czech Republic, artists, according to Mr. Havranek, do not have to worry about censorship:

"Until now, we can say that we are quite independent and we did not ask any permission from anyone. We trust that we can present what we think is important and somehow interesting. This exhibition was prepared by a Norwegian foundation and it was created by an America-based curator and then they tried to find some different places to send this exhibition to and so we got in contact with the foundation and finally, we didn't need any permission."