Examples of Controversial Art?
May 13, 2016 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for some examples of controversial artworks created in, say, the last 50 years or so. Ideally I would like to avoid simplistic one-liners like Andres Serrano's 'Piss Christ' and focus on art that is provocative in more complex ways. And I would like to completely avoid anything controversial for religious reasons.
posted by nanook to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My Bed
posted by bq at 4:17 PM on May 13, 2016

Huh... another piece of the internet pointed me to Per Inge Bjørlo's Alexis sculptures at the Oslo airport, just this morning.

Which lead me down a search path that included Paul McCarthy's temporary Paris installation: Tree.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:20 PM on May 13, 2016

Works of Judy Chicago?
posted by JoannaC at 4:29 PM on May 13, 2016

Myra by Marcus Harvey.
posted by jabes at 4:32 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unclear about "simplistic one-liners" (one person's simplistic one-liner is another's multilayered masterpiece), but: Marco Evaristti, Helena & El Pescador.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 4:37 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Richard Serra's Tilted Arc was the subject of controversy over who gets to make decisions about art in a public place.
posted by five toed sloth at 4:38 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

John Duncan's Blind Date.
posted by remembrancer at 4:41 PM on May 13, 2016

Stella Vine's Hi Paul can you come over I'm really frightened comes to my mind. A lot of the YBA / Stuckism work in the UK in the early 2000's.

A bit further back than your time range given, but Viennese Actionism was pretty controversial. In fact, a lot of gender-related performance art around that time is both controversial and very complex. I'd start with Carolee Schneemann - look up "Meat Joy" and "Interior Scroll" and go from there.

Orlan's plastic surgery art.

Richard Prince and other "appropriation" artists. He's been controversial for ages, and still is (see: Instagram selfies, Tate Modern removing his Brooke Shields image from their Pop Life exhibition a few years back...)

Lynda Benglis's Artforum magazine advertisement (I won't link, but definitely NSFW if you're image searching).
posted by cpatterson at 4:56 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pretty much any installation by Ed Kienholz would qualify, I think. Back Seat Dodge ’38, for instance.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:58 PM on May 13, 2016

Santiago Sierra paid several prostitutes to get tattoos on their bodies. Lots of scathing critiques written about its ethics. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sierra-160-cm-line-tattooed-on-4-people-el-gallo-arte-contemporaneo-salamanca-spain-t11852/text-summary
posted by nologo at 5:25 PM on May 13, 2016

Chris Burden?
posted by kevinbelt at 5:28 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Jeff Koons, Basketballs.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2016

Sensation, first exhibited by Saatchi in London in 1997, and later in Brooklyn in 1999, is interesting because everyone found something different to be offended by. Marcus Harvey offended English audiences, but Chris Ofili offended American audiences, and brought denunciations from the Mayor of NYC.
posted by ovvl at 6:06 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Recently, Rokudenashiko's vagina kayak and associated legal proceedings.
posted by Gotanda at 6:10 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

How Identity Politics Conquered the Art World (NY Magazine, 4/21/16)
posted by Guy Smiley at 6:52 PM on May 13, 2016

It's a bit of a big question. A lot of contemporary arts practice transgresses boundaries by definition, so the question could do with some sort of idea of what dates/methods/practices you are interested in. My interest is performance, and my answer reflects this.

There's Paul McCarthy - lots of 'civilians' don't like him. Ron Athey - that's sort of old school bodyshock performance art. There's Franco B. Going by stuff that unsettles me, there's Teresa Margolles. These are some contemporary names, as is Andres Serrano, whose work I do find many-layered and actually, really moving. It speaks differently to different folks. cpatterson's got some good recs. Add Stelarc to that list. But absolutely seconding the mention of Carolee Schneemann, a hugely original and vital feminist pioneer.

But basically, any contemporary gallery will have shown well-respected artists who many people find shocking, and a list of names doesn't really give you much idea of the (lengthy) history, traditions and intellectual background of the work: in order to be shown, collected and paid for, the most outre work has reams and reams of intellectual justification behind it. Otherwise it wouldn't be selected by highly educated, respected and pretty well-paid curators.
posted by glasseyes at 6:52 PM on May 13, 2016

Guernica. 1937, so older than you ask, but the controversies are contemporary.
posted by Nelson at 7:08 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jeff Koons
Damien Hirst
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:22 PM on May 13, 2016

So, so many. I will keep myself to one that I often fall back on as an example because it is so easy for anyone to grasp immediately. Marco Evaristti's goldfish in a blender.
posted by Cuke at 8:57 PM on May 13, 2016

Seconding Robert Mapplethorpe.

Also, Banksy. One example from this year.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:55 PM on May 13, 2016

Annie Sprinkle too. (Several NSFW images at the link)
posted by SisterHavana at 9:58 PM on May 13, 2016

Anything Ai Weiwei? He is politically controversial in Asia (though not so in a western-context).
posted by artificialard at 10:52 PM on May 13, 2016

Michael Landy's Break Down, where he destroyed everything that he owned. Starts out seeming as a simplistic critique of society's obsession with "stuff", but rapidly gets more controversial when the things being destroyed are artworks made by other artists, family photos and mementoes, etc. (who has the right/responsibility to keep/destroy these things)?
posted by Jabberwocky at 11:06 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

My go-to piece of art for starting arguments with people is An Oak Tree.
posted by doop at 12:51 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two Dutch artists have attracted controversy for things they've done with their dead pets: Bart Jansen turned his cat's body into a helicopter in 2012, and Tinkerbell killed her cat and used its fur for a handbag in 2004.
posted by neushoorn at 2:05 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dread Scott's 1988 artwork asked viewers to stand on the American flag. The artwork was removed from the gallery by the police!
posted by nologo at 5:08 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kara Walker's art, particularly some of the more sexual silhouettes, would probably be considered controversial by many viewers.
posted by Edna Million at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2016

Mirth and Girth, a portrait of Mayor Harold Washington wearing a bra, garter belt, and stockings, that was created shortly after his death raised all kinds of hell in Chicago in 1988.
posted by she's not there at 1:14 PM on May 14, 2016

A little outside your time bracket (1951) is Robert Rauschenberg's White paintings (and eventually Black and Red). Basically canvasses painted all one color.
posted by bfootdav at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2016

Controversial to whom?
Let's not forget that impish Italian, Maurizio Catellan.
Also the Chapman brothers (gorier-than-thou.)
Richard Prince is a better choice, the targets he hits are pretty central to the art world and culture at large. I would also recommend Pussy Riot, the Gorilla Girls.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:26 PM on May 14, 2016

Kara Walker's 'A Subtlety' is quite recent and has been controversial; it's a good place to start with her work.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 6:55 PM on May 14, 2016

Not especially complex, your basic "my kid could have done that" for a tax-funded sculpture: Carl Andre's "Stone Field Sculpture".
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 9:25 PM on May 14, 2016

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