The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban was a clear example of the destructive power of religious intolerance — it takes a religious mind to turn the demolition of art into a virtue. Now we have another example of extremism attacking art: Catholic fundamentalists in France have destroyed Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ.
On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery. The protest group included a regional councillor for the extreme-right Front National, which recently scored well in the Vaucluse area in local elections. The gallery immediately stepped up security, putting plexiglass in front of the photograph and assigning two gallery guards to stand in front of it.
But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.
I don’t want to hear another word from Catholics about my destruction of a mass-produced cracker. Their extremists use violence and the destruction of private property to deface a work of art in a museum.
It’s not even a particularly anti-religious work — that luminous golden glow is as reverential as the bloody, gory, suffering Christ figures mounted in Catholic churches all around the world.