10 Controversial Art Pieces

• May 5, 2008 • Comments (25)

Throughout most of our lives, art has become progressively more controversial. There is a direct correlation between the acceptance of controversial art within society and with the artist’s production of it. This is simply because some artists exist in a world that consists of a never-ending quest for their next great piece of controversial work (because it’ll generate whispers and murmurs and sales; oh my!), as opposed to just searching for the greatest possible creation, controversy notwithstanding. So here is a list of 10 controversial art pieces I’ve compiled that keep or has kept the world eye-deep in artistic hullabaloo. The number-5 slot is reserved for our local, neighborhood murderer and number-10 is occupied by none other than Jesus Christ.

Number 10

For number ten I’d like to take a quick poll; please raise your left-hand if you like Jesus, and raise your right-hand if you like chocolate? Well, those of you with two-hands-up are going to love Cosimo Cavallaro’s deliciously eye-catching piece of art entitled “My Sweet Lord.” My Sweet Lord is a 6-foot replication of Jesus Christ in his memorable dying moments hanging from the cross, made of chocolate. It was displayed at The Lab Gallery in Manhattan during Easter of 2007. It sounded like a good piece to Cosimo, pun intended; I mean, Art Director Matt Somler agrees, that’s why he put it up for display. He abruptly changed his mind, however, within two days of its opening. He felt so fervent that he had made a mistake; he took the piece down and resigned immediately. He said he, “felt pressure from the religious community” or God, to abandon his post. Number ten kicks this countdown off with a controversial career-ending piece of chocolate art by this Russian artist.

my sweet lord 10 Controversial Art Pieces
my sweet lord 300x200 10 Controversial Art Piecessweet lord2 300x227 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Number 9

Number nine is another thought-provokingly controversial piece. Like a lot of good art, it can inspire heavy emotions. The work takes the form of three billboards depicting a single image three-times; each image has a different label describing the picture in increasing levels of detail. This projects onto the viewer one small, brilliant epiphany about the individuals that they are observing. “Two people not in love” by Peter Fuss is talked about because of the significant statement the image makes non-literally; moreover in respect to each varying perspective of intelligent life, specifically children of the neighboring McDonald’s.

peter fuss billboard 10 Controversial Art Pieces
peter fuss billboard 2 300x200 10 Controversial Art Piecespeter fuss billboard 3 300x200 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Number 8

Number 8 is a structure that consists of 6 tons of wavy, overlapping, concrete slabs, entitled “Etroits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow Are the Vessels)”. To me, this isn’t so creative. It wouldn’t be so controversial either if I didn’t use the term “structure” loosely. You see, this piece of work belonged to an art collector in Connecticut, and it sat prominently in front of his home; it was made by German artist Anselm Kiefer. The controversy around this “structure” arose when the collector was sued by the Fairfield Historic District Commission because technically, legally, Narrow are the Vessels is a structure of its own, with regard to its mass and gravity. The collector, who had to temporarily close the street to allow five large flatbed trucks to deliver the slabs to his property, didn’t object to the term “structure” and didn’t fight the case. Instead, he transferred it to Massachusetts, a state with less-imposed structure laws, for it to be displayed in the Museum of Natural Art, along with 30 other pieces of Kiefer’s art from his collector. The collector remained anonymous but did say he decided to replace that piece with another piece that can be moved more easily.

narrow are the vessels 10 Controversial Art Pieces
narrow are the vessels 1 300x225 10 Controversial Art Piecesnarrow are the vessels 2 300x225 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Number 7

Number seven is a diamond encrusted skull by Damien Hirst, “For the Love of God”, which costs $1.8 million. Shortly after it’s creation, a piece entitled “For the Laugh of God”, by Peter Fuss made it’s availability known. For the Love of God is nice and shiny like nearly 2 million dollars ought to look, this is true. For the Laugh of God, however, delivers the same gleaming satisfaction (complete with 9,870 diamond-substitutes) for considerably less than 99% of its sibling’s price. For The Laugh of God was made specifically for public availability; Fuss spent 18 hours of work making it and received 55 pounds for each hour he put into it. That’s not bad at all. Personally, it looks like this piece was collected by a Columbian drug-lord and his sub-urban counterpart. People speculate that Fuss created this piece to speak about the morality of art and money. I wonder if he knows it works both ways, opposite of each other, for each piece. I’d like to own either both of them or neither one.

for the laugh of god 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Number 6

Number 6 belongs to Angela Singer. If you don’t know who Angela Singer is by now, you may never forget. Angela singer is an artist from New Zealand and her artwork is a little unusual at worst and a little controversial, at best. I’m sure some people even find beauty in it too; we know she does. Angela is an activist for animal-rights and is wholly against vivisections, or the dissection of live animals, or anything similar to it. Well, technically I went too far; she’s not opposed to anything similar to it because she is an artist whose canvas is only, simply made out of dead animals. In particular it’s made out of dissected dead animals. That is to say, who-else can see the beauty that lies beneath animals, in their guts, but the preserver of the animal’s guts themselves? This reminds me of an old American saying, “A black man can tell black jokes.” An activist for animal rights can dissect animals for art as long as it doesn’t impose on their rights if she desires to. Singer says, “These carcasses highlight how grotesque natural beauty can become after suffering at the hands of humanity.” Suffering … she said it herself, she knows what’s up. Angela singer provided controversial art piece number 6 as a collection of art. Thanks Angela.

angela singer art 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Number 5

ojsimpsonifididit 202x300 10 Controversial Art PiecesSlot number five can be held by no one else except for the convicted killer OJ Simpson. OJ beat the murder-trial, indeed, but he lost the civil one; so technically he is a killer, for the record. He plays one in his book too, “If I did it,” where he details to the reader what the commission of his crime would have been like IF he had murdered his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. The release of this book caused a major outcry and fueled the calls for many book-burnings to protest Simpson’s use of Language Arts to collect money on his wife’s death. From the time leading up to the book until after its publication, OJ has maintained his innocence, similar to the “everyone in here is innocent” mentality adopted by inmates. Regardless, unfortunately, what the book-burners failed to recognize is that to burn his book, you must first buy his book and that produces money from its production. This seems to have been the case as CNN reported that his book soared as high as the number-two slot on Barnes and Noble’s top-selling list, too bad it only made it to number five on this countdown.

Number 4

jef koons la train proposal 242x300 10 Controversial Art Pieces
Number 4 belongs to artist Jeff Koons and the proposed idea for his newest artistic endeavor. Be forewarned, it’s massive and it’s scary. It’s a 161-foot replica of a train being suspended by a crane hanging over the entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; this is similar to a giant shrub puppy he constructed in front of the entrance of another museum. This 161-foot replica will be recognizable from interstate 10 and would become a landmark for Los Angeles; that is if Koons’ dream sees actuality. The only thing this train and crane is missing is an automobile; I suppose patrons to the museum already have access to those. Some artists speculate that Koons’ proposed piece makes no statement and therefore isn’t art. Others say the statement is visible in the piece itself (perhaps the dying-down of LA Museum train usage), but they claim that that’s what makes it art. Whatever you believe you may soon see a train looming in the background of the Los Angeles skyline from the freeway all the way to downtown.

Number 3

Number 3 belongs to David Cerny of the Czech Republic. Cerny once suggested a masturbating woman as an installation to the top of a theater in France, complete with a water-shooting man that’ll occasionally douse the crowd. David prides himself on his enjoyment of making art that generates shock reactions in people. For instance, in Prague, David erected a statue of two kindly-seeming gentlemen. The men are naked, however, and every-other second their respective penis’ are reaffirmed into their individual grips as they shift from side-to-side shooting water, recognized as piss, down into the pool submerging their feet. You can even check-out a 360 degree view of the area by clicking here. David’s sculpture is cleverly entitled nothing less than, “Piss.” Enough said.
david cerny piss 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Number 2

slg olb hreuen 300x200 10 Controversial Art PiecesNumber 2 is German Artist Gregor Schneider’s unmade controversial piece of art which can be referred to as, “The beauty in death.” Gregor Schneider’s newest artistic endeavor will be complete as soon as he has a volunteer who is willing to die in a museum in observance of spectators from another room. The controversy arises when some people suggest that, “What if no one sees any beauty in death? What if there is simply death in death?” He claims that no individual’s death in his piece will be in vein (and all necessary respects to the dying will be made prior to their death). There is much debate over the artistic value of this design, if any, and there was great speculation over whether Gregor should have actually been picked as number 1 in this countdown too.

Number 1

Number 1, however, belongs to David Cerny and his recreation of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who, for this piece of art, is submerged in a tank of formaldehyde, better known as embalming fluid. “Shark,” shuts this contest down in terms of controversial art. Besides how any Saddam supporter feels, Shark, is a political piece that provokes the definition for controversial art. David created this art with his philosophical belief in the “impossibility of death in the minds of something living.” Which only strikes one thought within me which is: is he really trying to keep Saddam alive? At any rate, Shark is a realistic depiction of that despotic dictator we all have grown to know and view in obscurity so well.

saddam hussein shark 10 Controversial Art Pieces
pickled shark 300x199 10 Controversial Art Piecesshark1 300x225 10 Controversial Art Pieces

Have some work you’ve found that you think is especially controversial? Anything that offends you personally? Please, leave a comment!

Tags: Anselm Kiefer, art showcase, Cosimo Cavallaro, damien hirst, jeff koons

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Comments (25)

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  1. anna says:

    controversial art is so rubbish and waste of space

  2. Erica Rogers says:

    I’m personally offended by the chocolate Jesus.  I am amazed that he could have artistic talent and yet be so ridiculously stupid. 
    I’m also disgusted by the OJ thing.  An everyday Joe would be on death row for what he did.   It makes me sick to see him getting rich off of murdering his children’s mother.

  3. chaoartista says:

    genius!!!! :) )))

  4. jim says:

    i hadn’t realized that ‘piss’ wrote in the water … too bad there isn’t snow!. a brilliant technical achievement combined with bronze sculpture. my favorite.

    ps because of the lawsuit, the goldman’s get all of oj’s money from the book

  5. katelynn says:

    It has always made me wonder, why does contraversial art have to offend anyone? Do people only discusse art because it offends them? Can’t we celebrate not only what offends us but inspires us as well?

    Oh well i guess that it is human nature to focus on the things that horrify use. What i find amusing is that what horrifies one person has no effect on another. And since this feeling of horror is not mutual to a large group and generations of people, the art work has no lasting effect.

    It is the horrors that we cannot forget, and effect the mojority of humanity, that are remembered and change societies, yet i know of no art this powerful. I can only think of the hollicost and other such atrocites that achieve a larg enough impact to effect genrations, and nation. But do i want art to have such an impact, or  is it okay for it to just horrify a single person or small group of people. The fact of the matter is contracersial art will only affect a few poeple and rarly have any resounding impact in the future.

  6. Shannon says:

    Number 7/6/2 are true art in my eyes. The more a piece of art makes you stare at it, some part inside of you is beholden to it.

  7. Rome Balde says:

    You know what i find amazing in all this?  Some of the artworks shown here depict humans who are either partially or totally nude. But everyone here is professional enough to not be intimidated by a show of skin. In some knuckle-headed narrow-minded conservative societies (God help me), it is the nude form which brings out the loudest detestment. Indeed, when i saw the title “10 Controversial Art Pieces” i was expecting some nudes and someone saying something against it. From the country where i come from, people are numbed with gross and violence but shiver at the sight of a nude artwork. Coincidentally, just a few centuries ago, artists who experimented too much with the image of deities risk being put to death while fertility priestesses parade naked in public. It seems what is acceptable or not depends on the social norms of the place and time and not a rule presented by the “wise”.

  8. Alyssa says:

    I think that none of these pieces are controversial. If you dont agree with the artist and there piece of art then dont look at it. Every one has a different opinion of the world and i know we cant agree on everything but its art and its creative.

  9. constance says:

    I’d volunteer for the Schneider piece. Less is the likelihood of being forgotten….and I’d BE art. It’s kind of a cool thought.

  10. Mike says:

    Art is controversy. It has to exist in such a state as for people to dissect its meaning. You see, art requires true intellect, this ability to look past the pigments and medium as mere tools. The very style a piece is created, the tools used to create it, the medium in which it is molded are all beautiful. To say controversial art is a waste it ignorance, controversial art is art. Cast aside “art for the sake of art”; this is art for the sake of knowledge. Art does not come from billboards, tv, internet, and media parasite that plagues our every day. Art comes from the disruption of our everyday lives.

  11. Anastasia says:

    Absolutely loved My Sweet Lord piece (and I’m a conservative Christian). The artist makes a very powerful statement using chocolate as his medium, it wouldn’t be as powerful if it was made out any more traditional sculpture material. As a society we have devalued God, religion, as well as rest of our values. Cosimo Cavallaro makes a great comment on our celebration of Easter, which is a Christian day to remember death of Christ. It is now so popular in every country, but as a day on which we fill ourselves with tons of chocolate bunnies and eggs. Easter bunny is now the center figure on Easter, which has no connection to the original idea of Easter.

    Two People Not in Love is another great piece of art, love the how it makes you think about life and love. Don’t understand why it is controversial though, I don’t see how it can offend anyone.

  12. Aaron Everett says:

    Of course all a person knows is what they are taught & what they figure out for themselves, I myself enjoy doing controversial artwork, some people agree, some don’t, but in my mind nobody has the right to hate others no matter how much they disagree, everybody is still a person & a work or Art themselves! I’ve learned alot over my years here & fossilized customs .com gave me much to think about, and also great inspiration for the artwork I’m able to do. If some artwork offends you, you don’t have to keep looking at it, just remembr everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Shalom.

  13. Do you know what? Art doesn’t move on unless controversial pieces reach the public eye….. Imagine if we hadn’t progressed beyond the Renaissance ideal, or Victorian art or even cave art. Even Impressionism was considered controversial when it was first exhibited. The visual arts are moving faster now than at any time in history and in my opinion we all benefit enormously from this.

  14. Kee Llewellyn says:

    I agree with Alison… Art has to be controversial to break through the inertia of “WHAT ART IS.” On the other hand I think there is a difference between art being controversial and art being provocative. Some of the pieces shown here (Koons, Cerny, Hirst, Simpson) exist purely to stick a finger in the eye of the public and evoke a political or social outrage outside of the realm of art. A chocolate Jesus is a silly thing and obviously designed to get a rise out of evangelicals. It got Cavallaro’s name in the paper, that’s all. OJ’s book is arguably not even art, it’s just marketing and self indulgence. Koons, as always, came up with pointless crap that should never see the light of day. Cerny’s Sadam is nothing more than a grossly ham-handed copy of Hirst’s original shark which was far more an exercise in naming than a thought or emotion producing piece of art to begin with. Hirtst’s dumb skull is another pointless self indulgence (look, I can get some idiot to give me millions in diamonds!). And if George Schneider doesn’t have the guts to die in his own piece he doesn’t deserve the publicity he’s getting for suggesting that someone else do so. Frankly, the only “ART” I see is here is Fuss’ touching and thought provoking Two People Not In Love (and I have no idea why anyone would think it controversial). Everything else here is nothing but self-important, self-indulgent crap. But it does get these bozo’s names in the paper doesn’t it?

  15. Libby W. says:

    Controversial art gives people a different perspective on how others see issues in life. Everybody has an opinion and if we didn’t, dear god this would be a very boring and very different world. Their are plenty of things in life that people don’t want to look at but can’t be avoided, why should art be any different? Are people so wrapped up in their own little world that they can’t even get their head’s around two naked men peeing in public? Must people go to the extent of hating controversial art that much that they have to try and destroy the actual beauty and interlectual side and the meaning of it?

  16. wench says:

    #10 looks kind of creepy. I think the fact that chocolate Jesus has a bubble butt is the thing that freaks me out about that piece.

    I really like #9.

    #8 is just another piece of art made from cheap materials that looks utterly indistinguishable from trash, which is kind of a rip-off; unless you’ve made something that looks just like trash but is really made out of gold or hand-carved oak, it’s sort of pointless to me.

    #7 is pretty funny, actually.

    #6 is shudderingly foul. I like the display with the plasticised vivisected people, but disgusting vivisected animals? If you paint pictures of them – cool. To use the real animal? Gross. Also, unsanitary.

    #5 …art? Seriously? I thought that was nonfiction. Can nonfiction be art?

    #4 Ugly and boring, but who am I to judge?

    #3 I like it! It’s adorable. They have such prissy expressions!

    #2 …Ok. Um, there are all sorts of problems with this one, but it might still be art. Kind of. Thing is, if you really want to watch people die, you oughta just go be a volunteer at a hospital or work as a firefighter puling people out of wrecked cars. Then you get dead people, with a bonus of twisted metal sculpture courtesy of drunken idiots. Sticking it in a museum is tacky and probably not nice for the dying person. Also, why have the people in the other room behind a window? Is it to make the person dying feel like an exhibit and a freak, and the people behind the window feel like voyeurs? That’s cruel.

    I’m not saying it’s not art, but not all things that are art are good, just like not all things that are engineering are good. This sounds like a bad thing, like it might be unethical on many many levels, even if everyone consents.

    #1 is lame. But no worse then the pickled giant shark on display at the Melbourne museum, really. It’s just pickled art. I suppose it’s sort of funny. I might like it better if it were the real thing.

  17. Becca says:

    This is awesome…please add more!

  18. Moriah says:

    Call me a prude if you must, but number two is beyond creepy–as though we are not desensitized enough.

    I wonder what happened to the chocolate Jesus after the exhibit? It’s not very offensive imo. Piss Christ should’ve been number ten.

  19. Sam says:

    I think Gottfried Helnwein the German artist who took pictures for one of Marilyn Manson’s albums should be in this list. Especially such works like Sonntagskind (Sunday’s Child), and others.

  20. Tim says:

    I appreciate the painstaking effort that these artists took to create these works of art. Looking at the depth, texture, scale, and emotion that these images provoked, they are truely artists – not just students seeking attention or shock value.

    Although I would not pay to see a disturbing image of a dead body or a jewel encrusted skull (which has been done by too many artists to be considered original by me), I would value these images in a museum for public display.

    Beyond the bonds of friendships built over years of shared experiences, living is emotion. These images evoke emotion.

    Thank you for posting these online. Your editorials make the impact of the images more meaningful.

  21. Sarah says:

    For me, one of the most contoversial pieces of art – Doris Salcedo’s ‘Shibboleth’. Did anyone else go and see it? I thought it was great and I loved the concept – and everyone who fell in! haha. Good article. I particularly liked ‘My Sweet Lord’. Not too sure why ‘Two people not in Love’ is in however? Slightly controversial I guess, certainly not in the Top 10.

  22. Danielle says:

    I believe art is made to provoke emotions. If any of these “controversial art” pieces provoked any type of emotions in you, then congratulations; you just validated the point that the artist was trying to make by creating all these BEAUTIFUL art pieces. And yes, I honestly, from the bottom of my heart do mean beautiful. These works of art are outrageous for a reason, to get attention, to make a significant statement.

  23. Kyra says:

    I honestly don’t see anything controversial in ANY of these pieces. If you want controversial read The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name by James Kirkup though it is sexually explicit. All of these so-called controversial pieces of art are still in fact art. They are not even close to the point where they are “too controversial” to even consider as art. Reading the aforementioned poem may help you get a sense of what I mean (though is is a poem rather than a piece like the ones seen above)

  24. damian says:

    New art work posted on the Angela Singer facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Angela-Singer/102874783129867

  25. Bermudez de Castro says:

    As an artist, I appreciate all the works here, except for the o.j.simpson (notice type o) book. I don’t understand why that crap is considered any form of art. I was raised Catholic and only wished I had thought of the chocolate Jesus first…Anyway, I’m working on something to top that…!!! Cheers!

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