A perfect light, almost Caravaggesque to use a pictorial reference, which is at the same time the centerpiece and the framework of Andres Serrano’s work, Rat Poison Suicide II (The Morgue). Created in the early 90s but exhibited for the first time after over 10 years, this series of artworks synthesizes the essence of Serrano’s work, a reversal of vision and perspective that triggers reflections on subjects considered taboo: sex, religion, death.

A foot, portrayed from a lateral perspective suggesting a body in a lying position, which is not shown to us, left out of the scene. A white background, like a banal photographic set, and the movement entrusted to a mark, a cut on the skin, an immobile contrast of red against the cold pallor of the body. The first impression is that of a glossy fashion magazine portrait, if it weren’t for the zipper detail and the very title of the work itself that declares, without discounts or allusions, what we are looking at.

Is it moral or immoral to photograph details of violently deceased bodies like a 17th-century tableau? Serrano does not pose the problem but shows it to us, presenting us the moral questions that arise “in the face of others’ pain”. There is no recourse to declarations of truth, doubts about place, context, or fiction. The simplicity, the essence of the photograph, lives through a direct and deep connection between word and image. Between what is declared in the title and what we see or do not want to see, averting our gaze. Compassion for these bodies, unknown human beings, known only through the cause of their death.

Obsessed with aesthetic research and illusion, Serrano proceeds coherently, directly, and without any compromise, blending the sacred and the profane, what is socially acceptable and what is not. The series of violent deaths he represents, without ever falling into voyeurism or gratuitous provocation, is a search for beauty, for a formalization and an aesthetic capable of transcending stereotypes and prejudices. “I go to church to seek beauty, not spirituality”, it is within this Catholic imagery that Serrano places and saving himself, in his own way and with his own strength, from a life of experimentation and excess, of drugs and violence, which, like a spiritual rebirth, sublimates himself into art without hiding but rather exposing firsthand to the many criticisms that each of his works has provoked.

That of Serrano is not a search for scandal or easy “trending topics”, one could say today. Viewed, looked at, observed thirty years later, Rat Poison Suicide II represents all the drama, the obsession with the perfection of details and staging, with which Serrano has interpreted photography, consistently employed to stimulate reflections and counter stereotypes of dominant culture and social injustices.


Andres Serrano
Rat Poison Suicide II (The Morgue), 1992, pigment print
© Andres Serrano, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels