PARIS -- Police questioned witnesses on Monday in their search for a man who took a hammer to a controversial photograph of a crucifix bathed in urine at an art exhibition in an Avignon museum.
The modern art museum, the Collection Lambert, in southern France, said an assailant destroyed the photograph by American artist Andres Serrano, "Immersion (Piss Christ)" on Sunday and apparently accidentally damaged another of the artist's works while struggling with a guard.
It was not immediately clear whether the assailant was part of a demonstration a day earlier by a right-wing group denouncing the 1987 photograph as blasphemous and demanding its removal from the exhibition, entitled "I Believe in Miracles."
According to police, citing witnesses, two people tried to enter the museum late Sunday morning carrying a can of paint spray and a chisel in their jackets. The guard removed the objects – just as a third person took a hammer to "Immersion."
The attacker struggled with a guard, but helped by an accomplice, managed to escape, police said. In the struggle, he apparently damaged another work, "The Church (Sister Jeanne-Myriam)," which shows a nun praying.
The police officials asked not to be identified by name because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
The museum's doors were shut Monday for its weekly closing. However, it said it will reopen Tuesday with the destroyed works on display so that the public can view the damage. The museum closed early Saturday because of a protest of the protest.
Serrano made the controversial work by placing a crucifix in urine and blood, and it has drawn criticism in the past from some Christian groups.
Young far-right Christian activists from the General Alliance Against Racism and for the Respect of the French and Christian Identity is taking the Collection Lambert to court Wednesday to try to have the crucifix photograph removed from the exhibit. The group denounced the photograph on its Web site, saying it "insults and injures Christians at the heart of their faith."
The exhibit opened Dec. 12 and is to run until May 8.