Pope Francis hailed artists on Friday as true visionaries who can see, dream and invent as he welcomed 200 artists, filmmakers and writers to the Sistine Chapel to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vatican Museums’ collection of contemporary art.
Francis acknowledged that some in the crowd — there was Andres Serrano, of “Piss Christ” fame — sometimes use confrontation to get people thinking. But he said their goal was to find harmony and beauty.
“You want to reveal reality also in its contradictions and in those things that are more comfortable and convenient to keep hidden,” Francis said. “Like the biblical prophets, you face sometimes uncomfortable things; you criticize today’s false myths and new idols, its empty rhetoric, the ploys of consumerism, the ploys of power.
Pope Paul VI first invited artists to the Sistine Chapel in 1964 in hopes of renewing the friendship between the Catholic Church and artists which over the centuries had resulted in masterpieces. works such as the frescoed chapel by Michelangelo itself.
This public contributed to give birth, in 1973 with a concert directed by Leonard Bernstein, to the inauguration of the collection of modern and contemporary art of the Vatican Museums. The collection, the youngest in the museum, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with an exhibition of some of its most recent acquisitions, including by artists invited to the public on Friday.
In recent years, the Vatican has sought to reinvigorate the Holy See’s engagement with contemporary culture, participating in the Venice art and architecture biennials and, in the future, literary festivals.
In the audience on Friday were the likes of author Jhumpa Lahiri, director Abel Ferrara, whose recent film “Padre Pio” pays homage to the Italian saint, contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer and Italian actor Silvio Orlando, whose the portrayal of a fictional Vatican Secretary of State in “The Young Pope” and “The New Pope” made him seem right at home in the Apostolic Palace.
Serrano, for his part, said he was surprised he was even invited and delighted when he went upstairs to greet Francis at the end of the hearing. He said he introduced himself in Spanish, asked Francis for a blessing, and the Argentine pope slapped his wrist and gave him a thumbs-up.
Serrano’s 1987 “Piss Christ” photograph has sparked controversy since it was first exhibited, given that the image depicts a crucifix submerged in urine.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Serrano said he understood his invitation was proof “that the church understands that I am a Christian artist and that I am not a blasphemous artist. I’m just an artist.
“If ‘Piss Christ’ bothers you, maybe you should think about what it symbolizes. And what it symbolizes is a very horrible, painful, tragic and inhumane way for a human being to die. And that is how they crucified Christ,” he said.
Bishop Paul Tighe, number 2 of the Vatican’s culture and education ministry, said the inclusion of even provocative artists was proof of the Vatican’s willingness to enter into dialogue with contemporary culture.
“We’re ready for a conversation,” Tighe said. “We want to hear and talk, meet, dialogue with artists, because we believe that artists have perspectives and ways of seeing the world that we must take into account.
Asked in particular about Serrano, Tighe added: “I think that we all have to work on the presumption of good faith of the artist who tries to say something, to dispute something, and can sometimes resort to strong measures for us. wake. .”