Being confronted by Andres Serrano's “Blood and Semen II” is an unsettling experience. The magnified image places us uncomfortably on the threshold of an unfamiliar micro-world. At a size of over 90 cm by 150 cm, the scale of the photograph is intimidating, as is the vivid red and black of the intermingling fluids. The picture becomes yet more sinister within its historical context. The gallery guide describes how, when “Blood and Semen II” was taken in 1990, the threat of AIDS was increasingly being acknowledged and “bodily fluids such as blood and sperm became life-threatening as well as life-giving.”
The gallery guide (available on admission) is an indispensable accompaniment to the exhibition of Serrano's work currently on show at the Barbican Centre in London. To be appreciated, most of the works need to be described and placed in context. Often, Serrano's life provides sufficient context.
Growing up in Brooklyn,