Vandalism and threats greet "Piss Christ" in France

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PARIS (Reuters) - A controversial photograph of a crucifix submerged in the urine of New York artist Andres Serrano has been vandalized during an exhibit in Avignon and the museum’s employees have received death threats.

“Piss Christ” -- a photograph that sparked an uproar when first exhibited in the United States in 1989 -- was damaged Sunday “with the help of a hammer and an object like a screwdriver or pickaxe,” said the Collection Lambert, a contemporary art museum in France’s southwestern city known for its theater festival.

Moreover, the three vandals physically threatened three museum guards before fleeing, the museum said in a statement.

A second photograph, “The Church,” which depicts the torso of a nun with her hands in her lap, was similarly vandalized.

The museum, which shut its doors immediately after the incident, said it would reopen on Tuesday and display the damaged works “so the public can appreciate for themselves the violence of the acts.”

“Several people have called saying, ‘If you open, you’re dead,’” one museum worker told Reuters. “We’re nervous and we have asked for protection from the police.”

On Saturday, the museum was forced to close after a demonstration against the artist’s work drew some 800 protesters . The bishop of Avignon had earlier demanded that the museum remove the controversial photograph.

Most recently, several of Serrano’s works were vandalized

in 2007 during an exhibit at a Swedish art gallery.

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato