10 Controversial Artworks That Created A Storm of Theories Around Them

The Fountain by Marcel Duchamp as a cover image of controversial artworks.

An artwork which touches the zenith in terms of popularity, is most likely to be surrounded by a pool of controversies. Sometimes, the topic of controversy is genuine but it’s really over the top quite a few times.

Popular and famous paintings across the globe are mostly susceptible to getting hit by controversy. Well, vice-versa is also true in this case. For instance, some paintings become popular for a controversial reason. 

Controversy is a very subjective thing. It can hold a very different meaning and significance for different people. Yet controversial art pieces have the audacity to create a disparity between the people. 

Keeping that in mind, an artwork that might be celebratory for a community, could act as a symbol of disrespect for another set of people. This fact testifies art as a very contrasting field.

After getting familiar with the theme of controversies, let’s get acquainted with some of the most controversial artworks in the world and decode the theories behind them! 

1. Fountain by Marcel Duchamp 

Controversial Artwork Fountain by Marcel Duchamp 

On a general note, art is known as a medium of expression for unheard and untouched feelings. It has been a prominent influence on various reforms and political movements. 

Whereas, there are some controversial art pieces that astonished the world by their mere presence in art exhibitions. One such story rolls out from The Society of Independent Artists, New York. 

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It was just the beginning of the post-war era. Art was becoming substantially popular amongst the American people. Art exhibitions and symposiums became a popular sight in the big apple New York. 

The Society of Independent Artists conducted an exhibition for autonomous artists. Its primary motive was to promote artistic liberty on a large scale. The Society made a claim about the event being completely equivocated.

However, one of the famous French artists Marcel Duchamp was not sure about this claim and wanted to check its credibility. So he produced a urinal shaped fountain of porcelain, and submitted it as an entry for exhibition. 

He submitted his controversial art with a fake name “R.Mutt” signed on his artwork. He could not disclose his name in front of the jury as he was one of the board members. 

His skepticism about the Society’s liberal claim turned out to be true as his entry got rejected. The society desolated his artwork saying that “Something which contains human waste cannot be termed as a symbol of creativity” 

Duchamp resigned after the society’s disrespectful act towards him. However, his controversial artwork The Fountain fetched him global attention and became a one of the most controversial artworks.

(Also Read: Viking Art Guide)

2. Guernica by Pablo Picasso 

Controversial artwork Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

Probably one of the most controversial artworks of all time, Guernica by Pablo Picasso is an exemplary post-war controversial artwork. It reflects the devastation caused after the hazardous bombing of the Spanish city Guernica. 

In 1937, the fascist government of Spain along with Nazis, bombed the city of Guernica resulting in major loss of life and infrastructure. This incident was a major setback for the Spanish civilization.

In the aftermath of this incident, the Spanish Republican Govt. was looking for some famous Spanish artists to produce a masterpiece. They were in search of a painting that could be displayed in the Paris World fair. 

They later requested Pablo Picasso to paint a masterpiece for this occasion. Without having a second thought, Picasso depicted the devastation caused by Guernica bombing in his painting. 

He included forms of life affected by the bombing. There were a significant number of animals and humans affected by these aerial attacks. This is one of the most expressive paintings by Picasso

A man known for using vibrant and vivid color schemes in his paintings ended up incorporating white and black significantly. This became a popular topic of discussion about this painting. 

The black and white color scheme was used to depict the colorless and vague life left after the bombings. The straightforward color scheme of Guernica termed it as one of controversial paintings. 

3. Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock

Controversial artwork Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock.

Formerly known as number 11, this one of the most controversial artworks by Jackson Pollock is one of the finest examples of abstraction of art. It embodies every element from the expressionist style of painting. Yet it’s one of the most popular examples of art controversy. 

Pollock was a very famous American artist known for his expertise in creating vivid abstract paintings using various color schemes. His paintings make it evident that Pollock followed principles of abstract artforms closely.   

For instance, in Blue Poles Pollock used sticks instead of any paint brushes and tools. His mastery with the dripping technique is justified with this painting. Pounding and splashing of color has made it drip on the flat canvas. 

This artwork took the international audience by storm after its purchase in Australia. It sold for $1.3 millions and was recorded as the Highest amount paid for any American painting at that point of time. 

After its movement to Australia, The Blue Poles saw itself surrounded by an ample amount  of controversies. Most of them were targeted at its massive price. Australian art enthusiasts were not at all convinced with the amount paid for this painting. 

However, after a few years of tussle, it still rests in the National Gallery of Australia and elevates the surroundings by its artistic remanence. 

Also Read: Paintings by Jackson Pollock

4. Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol

Controversial artwork Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol.

Painted by one of the famous artists of Pop art, Andy Warhol, this painting is a depiction of real life ordinary moments on a large and grand scale. 

Andy Warhol painted a staple food item from one of the oldest American companies. He painted soup cans that were manufactured and sold by Campbell Soup company in the 1960s. 

With a thirst of portraying something ordinary, Warhol wanted to paint something that could connect with the audience with a snap of fingers. What’s better than something that is consumed on a daily basis. 

Andy Warhol was always influenced by consumerism. Many of his paintings portray consumerist ideas with a little tweak. He painted controversial art in order to grab the attention of the audience prominently. 

Just like in this painting, Andy Warhol painted 32 different soup cans in a matrix. He showcased all the different flavors sold by Campbell’s 60 years ago. 

However, his consumerist approach did not align with the Campbell Soup Company’s brand value ideas. Soon after this painting became popular, a cloud of controversies bursted upon Warhol. Eventually making it an example of controversial art. 

5. Piss Christ by Andres Serrano 

A very controversial artwork  Piss Christ by Andres Serrano.

Also known as “Immersion”, this photo art work by Andres Serrano is one of the most controversial artworks of all time. It directly affected a large amount of the audience in the late 20th century. 

The photograph contains a crucifix submerged in an orange colored liquid. This photo is from Serrano’s series of photographs in which he depicted the crucifix submerged in various natural liquids. He included blood, milk and urine in that. 

The point of controversy in this photo is Christ’s immersion in urine. This escalated even more when the artist claimed the urine to be his. Although Piss Christ received a high amount of critical appreciation for its unique and courageous perspective. 

Serrano received the award for best visual arts from  the Southeastern Centre for Contemporary Arts. It was applauded in many parts of America for being a unique presentation of  visual art. 

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However, Andres Serrano’s mailbox was full of death threats and hate mails in no time. A group of people did not like his use of urine along with the crucifix and termed his controversial artwork as a disrespect to Christ. 

Due to these controversies, Serrano lost his $15,000 grant as well which he received as an appreciation from the jury of Centre of Contemporary Arts. 

6. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn by Ai Weiwei

Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn by Ai Weiwei a controversial artwork.

Created by an artist of excessivism, Ai Weiwei, Dropping of a Han Dynasty urn is a very famous incident that shook the global creative diaspora. 

The Chinese contemporary was brought in a very challenging terrain yet he was from one of the first generation of Chinese students that went to the US for studies. He lived there for about 12 years. 

His return to China marked a milestone for the Chinese art community. Due to communism and political instability, freedom of expression wasn’t available to people. Amidst this turmoil, Ai Weiwei made a few attempts to spread his message amongst the people. 

Dropping a Han Dynasty urn was a publicity stunt pulled off by one of the controversial artists Ai Weiwei to make people aware about losing their culture and heritage. However, it was not very well received by the artistic community. 

Weiwei was heavily criticized and ridiculed for destroying a precious artifact in the name of political awakening. Some even labeled him as a maoist quoting Mao’s words “ The only way of building a new world is by destroying the old one.”

7. My Bed by Tracey Emin

My bed by Tracy Emin.

A peculiar and unpopular theme carved into an art of sculpture by British artist Tracey Emin,  My Bed is a snapshot from a routine life of the artist. It’s a confessional art piece. 

These kinds of controversial artworks include various elements from Tracey Emin’s life. A crumpled tissue, a set of sanitary napkins with period stains and a pair of used condoms along with lubricants can be seen. 

These items give an idea of a possible break up that the artist must’ve been going through at that time. The stand out element of this painting happens to be the confessionalism embedded in each of the items visible. 

The confessional nature of this painting became the main reason behind all the controversies. According to some art enthusiasts, this artwork contains a bit of over exposure for the audiences. 

Although Emin has produced controversial artworks like these before and after this affair. Still this painting remains as one of the most controversial ones from the late 20th century. 

8. Lady Godiva by John Collier 

Controversial artwork Lady Godiva by John Collier.

An artistic epitome of heritage and pride, Lady Godiva painting is probably the most successful artwork by British artist John Collier. With its theme dating back to nearly 1000 years, this painting became infamous for different reasons. 

Depicting a scene from an ancient British legend, Lady Godiva is a portrayal of the naked horse ride taken by anglo saxon Lady Godiva against his husband Leofric’s evil regime. 

Leofric was the Earl of Mercia, who contributed towards building several monasteries. He suddenly started imposing unreasonable taxes on his tenants. Apart from running this irrational campaign, Leofric was not considering anyone. 

So, his wife thought of showing resistance towards his actions and putting up a strong statement against him. After this incident, Lady Godiva was mentioned in the domesday survey from which artist John Collier took inspiration to paint her. 

This painting was termed controversial because of its nudity. The historical figure Lady Godiva is considered a symbol of holiness by some people. Despite being factually accurate, her nude depiction sparked a few controversies around. 

A painting with an astonishing historic legacy and an immaculate artistic theme, Lady Godiva is none less than a jewel to keep as a souvenir of art. 

9. For The Love of God by Damien Hirst

 Controversial artwork For The Love of God by Damien Hirst

The most expensive artwork from this list, For The Love of God is a sculpture by Damien Hirst. A very untraditional piece of art, this sculpture is a platinum cast of human skull studded with more than 8000 diamonds on it. 

Quoted at a whopping price of 10 million pounds, this sculpture consists of a large pink diamond embedded on the forehead of the skull. Apart from this, the teeth used by Hirst were also of a real human, bought by him in London. 

This 2007 artwork is valued at more than 50 million pounds currently. However, its valuation became a topic of discussion among the modern art community. 

Apart from the use of ornamental elements, this sculpture became famous for a series of copyright infringements as well.

Damien Hirst sent a copyright infringement notice to Peter Fuss. This incident soon turned into a controversy and For The Love of God kept becoming famous with the night.  

10. Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon by Pablo Picasso 

Controversial artwork Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon by Pablo Picasso.

One of the most controversial artwork from the early 20th century that blazed a flame of controversy and arguments around it, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a well-known Spanish artwork.  

Produced by the espanol experto Pablo Picasso, this painting portrays five nude women prostitutes standing on a street of Barcelona. Now, these kinds of subjects were neither a taboo for Picasso nor his audience. 

What made this painting peculiar and controversial is the composition and portrayal of the subjects. This artwork follows a proto-cubist style which justifies the facial textures of the women subjects. 

However, the disjointed and irregular body highlights of the prostitutes accounted for the non-feminine look they portray. This became a point of conflict and created a difference of opinion amongst other contemporary artists. 

Many art enthusiasts highlighted Picasso’s recent influence with primitivism and mentioned that the unfamiliar look on the prostitutes is nothing but a racial remark by Picasso. 

This topic became a mainstream point of conflict in the world of art. Further leading to a few disagreements between artists. 


“An artists world is reflection of his artistic inspirations” 

These paintings/artworks are driven from different inspirations. Some aim to inspire the world, some seek inspiration from the world. 

With different perspectives, come different receptions and feedback! 

No matter how controversial or publicized an artwork gets, the prime motive should not change!

These controversial artwork testify to the existence of alternate realities in today’s world. 

Authors Note: 

I’d like to acknowledge all the readers who stayed till the end and read the whole piece. 

I hope my writing did justice to your time!

At PortraitFlip, we keep on producing such amazing and informative content about art and aesthetics

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Who wouldn’t enjoy a classy controversial portrait hung on their wall? Plus it’s too easy to order and pretty light on the pocket as well!


1. Who are some Controversial artists?

Painters like Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and Andreas Serrano are claimed to be some of the most controversial artists of all time.

2. What is the central theme of painting Guernica?

Guernica by Pablo Picasso depicts the aftermath of a civil war. It shows the destruction and collateral damage caused during the Spanish war.

3. Is Andy Campbell an artist of Modernism?

Yes, Andy Campbell is a prominent artists of Modernism. He was a significant artistic figure of the Pop-art movement.

4. What does Les Demoiselles d’Avignon translates to?

Le Demoiselles d’Avignon is a French sentence. It translates to “The ladies of Avignon” in English.

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