Some artwork has a way of leaving people flabbergasted. Causing public uproar and leaving some shocked and astounded. Even today, artists know how to push the boundaries. Here are some famous pieces of work from recent years that still, to this day, remains a topic of controversial conversation.
FOUNTAIN BY MARCEL DUCHAMP
A clear example of Dadaism, Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ (1917) really shook up the art world. Duchamp anonymously submitted the porcelain urinal as a ‘readymade’ sculpture to the Society of Independent Artists. The group was known to accept any piece of art if the artist could come up with the entrance fee, but Duchamp’s urinal, signed ‘R. Mutt 1917’, was denied. Even though Duchamp was a co-founder and board member of the group (Duchamp resigned from the board in protest).
According to an interview with Otto Hahn in 1964, Duchamp chose to submit the urinal because it “sprang from the idea of making an experiment concerned with taste: choose the object which has the least chance of being liked. A urinal—very few people think there is anything wonderful about a urinal.”
Duchamp’s bold submission has left quite a legacy. ‘Fountain’ is now considered one of the greatest pieces of art to come out of the Dadaist art movement, sparking a discussion that continues to this day, the world over. In an article published in Life Magazine on 28th April 1952, Duchamp was described as “perhaps the world’s most eminent Dadaist” and “Dada’s Daddy”.
ANDRES SERRANO’S ‘PISS CHRIST’
The 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of Serrano’s urine. A work of art for some, unspeakable blasphemy for others, ‘Piss Christ’ has caused a public uproar since its creation but it was in 2011 in Avignon, France, when things really kicked off. During the Je crois aux miracles (I believe in miracles) exhibition at the Collection Lambert, a group of catholic fundamentalists vandalized a print of the photograph with hammers.
‘Piss Christ’ had upset a few senators when it came out that Serrano had received taxpayer-funded support from the National Endowment for the Arts. During this time, Serrano received death threats.
In September, 2012, ‘Piss Christ’ was shown in Serrano’s exhibition ‘Body and Spirit’ at the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in New York. Some religious groups as well as some lawmakers called for President Barack Obama to denounce the artwork.
But Serrano survived to tell the tale and in an interview with the Guardian in 2012, Serrano said that, “At the time I made Piss Christ, I wasn’t trying to get anything across,” He went on to say that, “In hindsight, I’d say Piss Christ is a reflection of my work, not only as an artist, but as a Christian.”
PABLO PICASSO’S GUERNICA AND LES DEMOISELLES D’AVIGNON
It’s no surprise that Pablo Picasso caused a stir with his artwork. He unashamedly lived a hedonistic lifestle and had strong political views on current issues of his time, and it was evident in his masterpieces.
A form of key proto-cubist work, ‘Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon’ (1907), wasn’t unveiled until 1916 and depicts five nude women. The frank and unfeminine depiction of the female nude shocked and enraged the public. The women are prostitutes and the name of the painting refers to a street in Barcelona which was famous for its brothels and ladies of the night. Henri Matisse even chimed in, calling the work “hideous”. A review published in Le Cri de Paris described the piece as: “M. Picasso, their leader, is possibly the least disheveled of the lot. He has painted, or rather daubed, five women who are, if the truth be told, all hacked up, and yet their limbs somehow manage to hold together. They have, moreover, piggish faces with eyes wandering negligently above their ears.”
Another Picasso creation that left people flabbergasted was in his 1937 mural, ‘Guernica’. Painted during the height of the Spanish Civil War, Guernica’s main subject was the murder of civilians by the Fascist Franco government. At the time, the painting was used as a piece of war propaganda, depicting the massacre of a Basque village in 1937. It’s since become a representation of every city ever bombed during war. The masterpiece’s strong anti-fascist message has been a point of contention and Picasso prevented it from being displayed in Spain until the fasciest government fell.
Still, the painting caused uproar when in 2003, a tapestry version of ‘Guernica’ that hung at the United Nations was covered up when two US Diplomats gave press conferences. The UN claimed that the television news crews asked to have the tapestry covered because the wild lines and exaggerated figures made for a bad backdrop. However, some diplomats told journalists that the Bush administration asked the UN to cover the tapestry while US diplomats debated on the war in Iraq. Columnist Alejandro Escalona conjectured that ‘Guernica’s’ “unappealing ménage of mutilated bodies and distorted faces proved to be too strong for articulating to the world why the US was going to war in Iraq”.
GUERILLA GIRLS, DO WOMEN HAVE TO BE NAKED TO GET INTO THE MET. MUSEUM?
The Guerilla Girls is an anonymous group of feminist activist artists founded in New York in 1985. The group aims to fight sexism and racism in the art world using facts, humour and imagery to expose the systematic issues in the art world.
In 1989, the group created a billboard for the Public Art Fund in New York titled ‘Do Women Have to be Naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ The PAF rejected the work, claiming it was too provocative. The group rented ad space on the NYC buses and placed the work there. In addition, they hung the billboards around the city during the night, wearing their signature gorilla masks.