Who doesn’t love controversies?
I sure as hell do, and in our beloved world of art, millions upon millions of controversial artworks have created a buzz around them.
There are many characteristics in these artworks that make them mysterious, impactful, and even insane in some ways.
And this is how controversial artists intended them to be, as in the golden age of painting, they were used to send messages to viewers.
And not only does this have a lot of presence in the art world, but it also affects the political as well as social agendas of the world.
But don’t worry, famous painters all over the world intend the exact same response to their artworks, as they believe in sending messages to the people with their controversial artworks.
1. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn by Ai Wei Wei
A photographic triptych by Ai Wei Wei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, depicts the artist, dropping a clay urn from the Han Dynasty in China.
This impactful artwork sparked a lot of controversy in its initial publishing, as the critics believed that it encouraged vandalism and destruction of the country’s precious heritage.
However, what enraged the historians, even more, is that Ai failed to capture the perfect images in his first attempt to create the artwork, so he destroyed another urn of the same kind in order to get the perfect clicks.
Both of the Urns cost thousands of dollars each, and the famous artist paid for both of them out of his own pocket.
When asked about the artwork, Ai demanded that the people let go of the past, and he famously quoted Mao’s saying, “We can only build a new world if we destroy the old one.”
Even today, this remains one of the most controversial artworks that Ai Wei Wei has captured, and the original copies now remain at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
2. Fountain by Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp created this infamous, controversial artwork to question what can really be called art in this modern world.
The society of independent artists conducted an exhibition at the Grand Central Palace, where the artist Marcel was invited to exhibit his famous artworks.
However, when Marcel turned up with a urinal signed by an imaginary name, making it one of the weirdest artworks, even by Marcel’s standards. Therefore, they decided not to display the work in the exhibition.
The reason for this was that the committee decided that something that was associated with bodily waste could not be considered a work of art.
Later, when the famous artist was asked about the artwork, he stated that “ everyday objects were raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist’s act of choice.”
Today, one of the most controversial artworks is located at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
3. Do women have to get naked to get into the MET museum? By Guerilla Girls
This famous controversial artwork is considered to be an act of revolt conducted by the Guerrilla Girls—which is also a collection of the most famous female artists.
It was done because the MET Museum had considerably more male artists and fewer female ones.
But the number of nude paintings on display had more female subjects compared to their sexual counterparts.
So, in order to protest, they made this poster-like artwork to display in the MET itself; however, the museum rejected this plea.
Desperate to make their voice heard, they decided to stick the artwork all over the buses in New York.
This shed significant light on the participation of female painters of history and artists in museums and galleries.
It was thought that it brought a very big conspiracy regarding female exposure to the world and, hence, is considered to be one of the most controversial artworks by female artists.
This started a great wave of controversial artworks which focused on the sexism that takes place in the art community.
(Suggested Read: Paintings Of Women)
4. My Bed by Tracy Emim
One of the most iconic placement artworks ever by a female artist, My Bed sends a very deep message regarding the artist’s depressed sexual phase.
It consists of her usual bedroom objects in a messy state, which gained a lot of media attention.
Although this shocking art did not win any awards, it got a lot of recognition among critics due to the open display of her mental state, showing her using inner wear and sanitary pads, which depicted her sexual state.
Upon its first exhibition, it created a media frenzy because the bedsheets were stained with bodily fluids and used condoms.
Tracy said that the bed was a clear display of hers when she was going through suicidal depression due to relationship difficulties.
Such an artwork that openly displayed the stress and depression she was going through had never been seen before and was considered one of the most controversial artworks to ever be displayed.
5. Myra by Marcus Harvey
The main subject of this controversial painting is Myra Hindley, and it is the perfect depiction of her mugshot when she was captured for several murders and sexual assaults.
The famous artist Marcus was also in hot water because most of the critics considered it to be glorifying her acts, making it one of the most controversial artworks that delved into the criminal psyche of the viewer.
What is even more controversial is that the artist believed in the innocence of Myra and believed that she was forced into doing it by her lover.
The painting was remade numerous times, making it one of the most famous paintings of all time.
It also appeared in the controversial London exhibition “Sensation Exhibition of Young British Artists at the Royal Academy of Art” which was home to many controversial pieces of art.
Here, the painting was vandalized twice by two different people who believed that Myra was guilty, making it one of the most hated art pieces in history.
Later, when the painting was touring the US, white paint was thrown all over it, destroying it.
Although it was destroyed it was considered to be one of the most controversial artworks and it was remade by many artists numerous amounts of times.
6. Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon by Pablo Picasso
This is undoubtedly one of the most famous paintings by Pablo Picasso. It depicts five prostitutes standing together in a brothel.
Being a controversial artwork, it’s considered a famous nude painting by Picasso and a great portrayal of his Cubist techniques.
This is why it’s being listed in famous Cubist paintings, garnering eyeballs across the globe.
Upon its first exhibition, it created an outrage all over the world and even among the painter’s closest friends.
The iconic cubist painter, Henry Matisse, thought it was some kind of bad joke made by the painter.
It was later deemed immoral because of the position of the prostitutes and the expressions on their faces, which were said to be too menacing.
However, in the years following the artist’s death, the art community began to recognize the genius depiction of the painting and it began to gain a lot of popularity.
You can find this famous painting, which took the journey from infamous to famous, at the Museum of Modern Art.
Also Read: Arts that describes naked truth of Gay Erotic
7. The Guitar Lesson by Basthaus
A scandalous painting, The Guitar Lesson, depicts the scene of a violin teacher disciplining her student with the violin lying down on the ground.
The main subject of the painting (the violin teacher) is seen with her hand close to the crotch of the little girl, exposing her genitals.
Upon the first exhibition of the painting, it was frowned upon by the art community because of the vulgar depiction of the girl in the painting.
Unlike today, the rules against pedophilia were not as clearly defined, and therefore, it was considered to be shocking and disturbing.
Even in today’s progressive world, it is not displayed in galleries or exhibitions because it is considered too vulgar.
8. Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
This photographic artwork depicts a small wooden cross, dipped in a jar full of the artist’s urine.
It was actually made as an album cover and was part of a series of photographs of subjects dipped in urine, milk, and water.
Most of the critics considered the work to be blasphemy, however, the artist never considered it to be one, as he meant it to be a depiction of the current religious position of the world.
He was famously quoted saying, “Maybe if Piss Christ upsets you, it’s because it gives some sense of what the crucifixion actually was like…I was born and raised a Catholic, and I’ve been a Christian all my life.”
Causing a rage that spread like wildfire, the Serrano received various death threats because of the controversial artwork’s message.
In October 2022, the artwork was sold at auction for 130,000 euros.
9. The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili
One of the most famous contemporary black artists, Chris Ofili, is known for making artworks that incorporate elephant dung, sand, and various other geographical elements.
However, when he created “The Holy Virgin Mary”, and portrayed her as black, it sparked widespread outrage among Catholics all over the world.
Many considered the artwork to be a work of the devil and blasphemous, making it one of the most controversial artworks to have ever been made.
Another point of attention was the singular breast, which he portrayed using elephant dung, which was not well received by critics in the art world.
When it went on display, several attempts were made to vandalize the famous painting, due to which it has not been on display ever since.
There were even multiple lawsuits filed against the museum that hosted the painting, however, the museum won them.
Today, one of the most controversial artworks hangs at the Museum of Modern Art behind protective glass with two guards guarding it.
10. The Last Judgment by Michaelangelo
This famous wall mural, a part of the Sistine Chapel, was the work of the extraordinarily famous Renaissance artist, Michelangelo.
Michaelangelo took five years to complete this masterpiece, which is one of his most beautifully detailed works.
But upon its unveiling, it was frowned upon by the Catholics because of the graphic nudity and the presence of only male subjects.
It also depicts hints of male homosexuality all over the painting, which was looked at as a disease at the time of its unveiling.
Because of its various demerits, it was considered one of the most controversial artworks of the time period; however, the beauty and realism portrayed by the artist are exceptional and second to none.
Enigmatic, surreal, one-of-a-kind, and pioneering are how I would describe these controversial artworks.
The controversial paintings demonstrate the great depth with which the artists desired to depict these realities. They were also unconcerned about the consequences.
The goal was crystal clear: to depict their imagination.
This had a deep impact on the viewers and gained a lot of infamies all over the globe.
I am also sure one of these paintings must have had a deep impact on you or struck a chord with you too. Right?
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