Controversial art
October 4, 2007 12:55 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of boundary breaking art in the 20th and 21st centuries? Has there been any art that caused riots, made huge headlines, caused masses to reevaluate their lives and societies? For the purposes of this question I would like to define art in the broadest possible way.
posted by arcticwoman to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What about the cartoons that featured images of Muhammad, which caused massive unrest in Middle Eastern countries last year?
posted by autojack at 12:56 PM on October 4, 2007

Stravinsky's Rites of Spring caused a riot the first time it was performed.
posted by drezdn at 1:07 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Stravinsky's debut of The Rite of Spring in 1913?
posted by jaimev at 1:07 PM on October 4, 2007

Argh...should have previewed. Sorry.
posted by jaimev at 1:08 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Sensation
posted by cosmic osmo at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2007

Jaimev, at least you didn't include the extra s.
posted by drezdn at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2007

Jazz? Rock? Hip hop?
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:10 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: The art (including Serrano's Piss Christ and the work of Karen Finley) that inspired the controversies over the National Endowment for the Arts might qualify - though these pieces were 'controversial' mostly because they were cited by conservatives trying to slash funding for the NEA.
posted by googly at 1:10 PM on October 4, 2007

Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase was considered a huge scandal when it was shown at the 1913 Armory Show in NY.

It's considered, today, to be an important ground-breaking work (as was most of Duchamp's works, frankly)
posted by Thorzdad at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: for more on the controversies cited by googly, you might want to check out the book Art Matters. Richard Meyer also touches on those issues in his recent book Outlaw Representation.

Also, there's the extended debate that happened around the installation of Richard Serra's Tilted Arc in Federal Plaza in 1981.

These are all totally canonical art controversies; off the top of my head I'm also thinking of various Guerrilla Girl actions, especially when they first began -- and although I'm not sure it's exactly what you're asking, what about instances of communities supporting art, like with Christo's Running Fence, or the recent Banksy piece in Bristol?

Oh, what about the reaction to the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds?

On preview, I was also going to mention Duchamp -- although I was thinking of the Fountain.
posted by obliquicity at 1:22 PM on October 4, 2007

Rainer Fassbinder's play The Garbage, the City and Death caused a great deal of controversy in the Dutch Jewish community. Actor Jules Croiset even staged his own kidnapping by neo-Nazis as a protest.
posted by rjs at 1:25 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: More recently, Defacer.

More here
posted by iwhitney at 1:30 PM on October 4, 2007

Naked Lunch
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 1:32 PM on October 4, 2007

Submission by Theo van Gogh
posted by swordfishtrombones at 1:32 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Controversial art:

Marcel Duchamp's Fountain

Life of Brian by Monty Python

Ecce homo (Swedish: photo exhibition where Jesus is portraited with gays and prostitues. Was actually exhibited in Uppsala Cathedral!)

Chris Ofili's Mother Mary

The Muhammed cartoons by various Danish cartoonists

Spanish Performance Artist Itziar Okariz performs "Peeing in public and private spaces" during the MADE festival in Umeå, Sweden. photo

I will let you decide whether these truly are "boundary breaking" or good...
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:37 PM on October 4, 2007

Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc" got a whole bunch of people really pissed off, and it was eventually removed from the public place where it was installed (Federal Plaza, NYC).
posted by entropone at 1:38 PM on October 4, 2007

Gloomy Sunday?
posted by Gortuk at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2007

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

Stretching your time period a bit, Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts (1881) used to cause riots.

The novels and plays of Jean Genet were often subject to bans and charges of obscenity.
posted by dnash at 1:46 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Pablo Picasso's Guernica, which depicts the town's 1937 bombing by the Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War and is an iconic antiwar image (more about the painting). Nelson Rockefeller donated a tapestry based on the painting to the United Nations. The Bush Administation had the painting covered during Colin Powell's WMD presentation to the UN.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:57 PM on October 4, 2007

Yo Mama's Last Supper, depicting a black nude female representation of Jesus, was the center of a lot of controversy. Rudy Giuliani, I believe, tried to strip the Brooklyn Museum of Art of funding partially due to this painting, and also created a council that would ensure any art displaced in public museums in New York was "decent."

Another example, which also came under fire from Giuliani, is Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary, also displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

I was also going to mention Guernica -- it's definitely been sort of a standard for anti-war groups, as well as mid-20th century anarchist and socialist groups.
posted by brina at 2:07 PM on October 4, 2007

Oops. Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary.
posted by brina at 2:08 PM on October 4, 2007

If it hasn't already been mentioned, Manured Madonna.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:11 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Yo Mama's Last Supper freaked out then-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani:
If you want to desecrate religion in a disgusting way, if you want to promote racism, if you want to promote anti-Semitism, if you want to promote anti-Catholicism, if you want to promote anti-Islamism, then do it on your own money. Do not use the taxpayers' money to do that.
In December 2004, hundreds of Sikh demonstrators stormed a theater in Birmingham, England, to protest Behzti, a black comedy that depicted a rape in a Sikh temple. The play shut down and the playwright went into hiding due to death threats.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:15 PM on October 4, 2007

(Ubu Roi is slightly out of bounds with the timeline, but hey.)
posted by Skot at 2:30 PM on October 4, 2007

The first Dadaist performances caused people to throw eggs and fruit at the performers. Some online searching will yield more details on this.
posted by quadog at 2:40 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: The Da Vinci Code ("art" used loosely).

Kevin Smith's Dogma.

My Sweet Lord, a six-foot-tall chocolate sculpture of a naked, crucified Christ.

Piero Manzoni 's Artist's Shit No. 014 (Metal, paper, and artist's shit) at the MOMA.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:43 PM on October 4, 2007

If you are defining art broadly, zoot suits.
posted by letahl at 2:53 PM on October 4, 2007

Jean Renoir's RULES OF THE GAME.
posted by cinemafiend at 2:56 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Some great examples here, especially re: dadaism, cubism, etc. in the early 20th century.

As far as changing people's lives, I think it's probably difficult to overestimate the role the Bauhaus played in revolutionizing ideas of day-to-day aesthetics, design, architecture, etc. Russian constructivism also aimed to revolutionize art, design, and architecture at the most fundamental level. It's important to realize that the avant-garde art movements of this time in Europe (particularly in Germany as well as Central and Eastern Europe) were often highly politicized, so art itself was seen as a very specific and powerful tool for changing society -- its practitioners aimed to shake up the old way of doing things, often in a deliberately provocative way (dadaism being the most obvious example).

Beyond the general cultural hubbubs caused by prewar modernism, it's also worth noting that the Nazis essentially criminalized modern art as "degenerate."

After WWII, Magritte briefly abandoned his signature surrealist style for the vache period, in which he produced purposely ugly, awkward, "bad" painting to parody fauvism and to shake up the Paris artworld. Gallerists, critics, and public were not amused; the scandal almost ended his career.
posted by scody at 3:19 PM on October 4, 2007

Punk Art and Cosey Fani Tutti: Prostitution' is increasingly being seen as a very important event in the history of the vanguard of British art, performance and counterculture. The show was revisited recently by the I.C.A. and the Tate Britain has a small room dedicated to it. The exhibition threw Tutti and Genesis P. Orridge into the public spotlight with massive tabloid coverage, one hundred plus articles and questions asked in Parliament, making the pair into "..household names.." The group's historian felt that the attention it received was "...out of all proportion to its modest size" (ibid). Coum Transmissions probably attempted to shock and scandalize and turn around everyday conceptions of art, work and society. As such, the choice of paid sex work as a theme was probably a way of knocking traditional family values, artistic values and capitalism
posted by lucia__is__dada at 4:08 PM on October 4, 2007

Myra got repeatedly vandalised by outraged viewers.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Art has caused riots, but I dare say there hasn't been any that has "caused masses to reevaluate their lives and societies". The riots were reactionary, objecting to the art. They were not revolutionary, inspired by the art.

I'm afraid that art just isn't as influential and important in the grand scheme of things as artists really think it should be.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:31 PM on October 4, 2007

When Dylan went electric.
posted by RussHy at 4:32 PM on October 4, 2007

In the Dylan vein, there's the 1969 Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Freeway, though I think that's a case where rioting resulted from attempted art.
posted by brina at 4:54 PM on October 4, 2007

Elvis Presley's "gyrations" created a storm of controversy—even eclipsing the 'communist threat' head-lines prevalent at the time. The next day's press used such words as "vulgar" and "obscene" because of the strong sexual content perceived in his act.

Elvis disapproved of The Beatles' anti-war activism and open use of drugs, later asking President Richard Nixon to ban all four members of the group from entering the United States. Peter Guralnick writes, "The Beatles, Elvis said, [...] had been a focal point for anti-Americanism. They had come to this country, made their money, then gone back to England where they fomented anti-American feeling."[79] Guralnick adds, "Presley indicated that he is of the opinion that The Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with young people by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music while entertaining in this country during the early and middle 1960s."

In contrast, Bob Dylan recognised the Beatles' contribution, stating: "America should put up statues to The Beatles. They helped give this country's pride back to it."

The electric Dylan controversy was the Sunday July 25 1965 incident at the Newport Folk Festival where folk singer Bob Dylan first "went electric", by playing alongside an electric blues band in concert. This seeming rejection of what had gone before made Dylan unpopular in parts of the folk community, alienating some fans, and is considered to have deeply affected both folk and rock and roll.

The sound quality was certainly the reason Pete Seeger disliked the performance: he says he went to the sound system and told the technicians, "Get that distortion out of his voice ... It's terrible. If I had an axe, I'd chop the microphone cable right now." Seeger has also said, however, that he only wanted to cut the cables because he wanted the audience to hear Dylan's lyrics properly, because he thought they were important.

Though he didn't make big headlines, Woody Guthrie probably had as much overall influence as any 20th-century artist.

Anyway, the 20th Century was full of this sort of thing. Cubism, Surrealism, minimalism, Rock and Roll, folk music, disco, jazz, blues, rave culture, post-modernism, Pop art, Dada; all of them made headlines and caused many people to see things in a new way. The 21st century, pretty quiet so far I think.
posted by sfenders at 5:02 PM on October 4, 2007

Too Live Crew
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:00 PM on October 4, 2007

er... 2 Live Crew
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:03 PM on October 4, 2007

posted by borkingchikapa at 6:48 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: "Here are some samples of works that have crossed a boundary of what was acceptable in their time."
posted by sfenders at 7:25 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: Voice of Fire generated (well not riots we're Canadian after all) a frenzy of media and public attention.
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 PM on October 4, 2007

Best answer: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie made huge headlines, and you might be able to argue that The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer caused masses to re-evaluate their lives.
But if you're talking about a really broad definition of art which causes masses to re-evalute their lives, then maybe you should consider propoganda posters (Soviet or otherwise) or the architectural works which pioneered ultra-high-density tower-block living.
posted by bunglin jones at 9:19 PM on October 4, 2007

I would also add composer Hermann Nitsch, noise "band" Gerogerigegege, and sound artist John Duncan.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:06 PM on October 4, 2007

Hour of the Furnaces. Big time.
posted by history is a weapon at 9:49 AM on October 5, 2007

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