The most controversial Art Installations ever are a few funny or incredible stories that actually happened in the art world. From touching political issues, environmental or just for questioning art, such installations were very critical at that time. Some were banned, some cases led to court for the solution. And that’s the purpose of art, touching the “untouched” themes of society and make people take some time to think about it. Find some of the most controversial art installations below and read why they were the cause of so much argument.
Brown Nosing by David Černý
Sculptor David Černý is known for creating public works that are strange and lurid. But in 2003, on the occasion of the first exhibition organized by the gallery Futura, he debuted Brownnosing, a large-scale installation. It featured the bottom half of humans, bent forward, with videos of politician Václav Klaus and the artist Milan Knížák feeding each other. This was accompanied by the Queen song “We Are The Champions” and was visible only by climbing a ladder and placing one’s head through the ass-end of the sculptures.
All by Maurizio Cattelan
Maurizio Cattelan has been hailed as a provocateur for years. It was his Guggenheim retrospective called “All” that caused the biggest stir. Instead of presenting a show in a traditional manner, he hung his work from the ceiling on platforms. The New York Times wrote of the show: “one of the strangest, most audacious exhibitions in its half-century history, suspending several thousand pounds’—and many tens of millions of dollars—worth of high-end, internationally collected art from cables attached to a heavy-duty aluminum truss installed almost 90 feet in the air under the museum’s glass dome.” Among the pieces was Cattelan’s most contentious work, depicting a wax sculpture of Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite, called La Nona Ora.
Tilted Arc by Richard Serra
Minimalist sculptor Richard Serra caused a federal stir with his massive steel monolith called Tilted Arc. The piece, commissioned by the federal government, cut the Foley Federal Plaza in front of the Jacob Javits Federal Building in Manhattan in half. More than 1300 people who worked in the complex signed a petition for its removal, citing disruption to their daily lives—they now had to walk around the massive 120-foot bisector. What developed was one of the most notorious trials in the history of art law, where it was finally deemed that the work should be removed.
Break Down by Michael Landy
Installation artist Michael Landy spent two weeks destroying all of his worldly possessions in an abandoned London shop on Oxford Street. He smashed 7,006 items, including just mundane items of living, but extending to original works by Damien Hirst. At the end of the exhibition, all that remained were bags of garbage, which were not displayed or sold. Landy received no money directly for the piece and was left with absolutely nothing as a result. He made very little art for a year after this.
Surrounded Islands by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
The public installation artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude stirred up a massive controversy in 1983 when they used 6.5 million square feet of pink polypropylene to surround eleven islands in Biscayne Bay. Environmentalists were furious at the prospect, and a federal trial came to a head just months before the installation.
Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 by Tracey Emin
One of the most derided and variously received works of the 1990s, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 was controversial because of its sexual subject matter, although, as the artist explained, that was only part of the concept of the piece. “Some I’d had a shag with in bed or against a wall. Some I had just slept with, like my grandma,” the artist said. “I used to lay in her bed and hold her hand. We used to listen to the radio together and nod off to sleep. You don’t do that with someone you don’t love and don’t care about.” When the piece was destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2004, the public reaction was of mockery rather than sympathy.
Erased de Kooning Drawing by Robert Rauschenberg
In the 1950s, the conceptual artist Robert Rauschenberg was exploring the very definition of art. Included in this exploration was an examination of whether or not a work of art could be created by removing marks from a page, rather than generating marks. He began with his own drawings but decided for the work to be successful it would have to be of a drawing that was of monumental worth. For this, he went to the studio of the greatest living painter he knew, the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. After many drinks of Jack Daniels and heavy persuasion, de Kooning gave Rauschenberg a heavily worked-on painting that took him a full month to erase. The act was denounced as an abomination and criminal by many critics, as well as the destruction of property.
“The Perfect Moment” by Robert Mapplethorpe
There was a massive scandal in 1990, the year following the death of the widely celebrated photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In a retrospective of his highly homoerotic work at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, seven of the 175 photographs were considered un-viewable. As a result, the museum was sued for obscenity, the first time in the history of the nation such a thing had happened. The museum was found not guilty because of First Amendment rights.
Dreamspace V by Maurice Agis
Art pieces rarely cause actual death or destruction, despite how controversial they may be. But when Maurice Agis created a site-specific installation of one of his vivid and colorful Dreamspace V, the unthinkable occurred and two people died. The large, interactive, walk-through sculpture tore free of its moorings and flew into the air with 30 people inside of it. The artist witnessed the accident and vowed to never create works on that scale again.
Guernica by Picasso
Picasso’s huge mural depicting the 1937 massacre of a Basque village, this painting is controversial for a number of reasons. As a decry against fascism, it’s become known as “a picture of all bombed cities.” Its home has been the largest point of contention because Picasso did not want it displayed in Spain until justice had been restored there. When it was on display at MoMA in 1967, 400 artists signed a petition directed at Picasso to have the painting removed from the U.S., citing the atrocities of the Vietnam War. In 1974, a young artist named Tony Shafrazi spray-painted the words “Kill Lies All” on the canvas. In 2003, a tapestry version of the piece was covered up at the United Nations. Now it is permanently housed in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Spain.
How Ya Like Me Now? by David Hammons
Kool Moe Dee’s lyrics inspired the title of this piece by David Hammons, a work that was meant to comment on the widening gap between civil rights leaders and the hip-hop generation. Featuring a portrait of Jesse Jackson with white skin, bleached hair, and blue eyes, the mural was critical of black leaders’ assimilation into the white political climate. It was initially on a public billboard near the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, but was later moved inside after a group of young black people attacked it with sledgehammers.
Igniting a fire about censorship practices online, Los Intocables (The Untouchables) by Erik Ravelo dealt with how children are exploited in different ways throughout the world. “The children are crucified,” we wrote about the project earlier this year, “in a sense, to each of their representative villains, their faces blurred, indicating a loss of identity. While the aggressors in the photos are against the wall in an almost criminal way, leaving their backs to the children indicates a kind of disregard.” Facebook deemed the material too shocking and removed it from the website. A petition was started to allow the artist to display the work on Facebook.
“Society of Independent Artists” by Marcel Duchamp
In a major landmark move of 20th-century art, Marcel Duchamp submitted a rotated urinal to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. The piece, entitled Fountain was rejected, itself causing a scandal as the rules of the exhibition stated that anyone who paid the required fee would be accepted. The piece caused an uproar about what is and what isn’t art and refocused art’s purpose from physical practice to intellectual interpretation. Since Fountain‘s debut, many artists have claimed triumph by urinating in the piece, causing further scandal around the piece.
Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
Andres Serrano received death threats and hate mail for years following the unveiling of his photograph Piss Christ. It was a photograph of a small plastic crucifix, submerged in a jar of Serrano’s urine. The work ignited a debate about public arts funding because Serrano received more than $15,000 from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts. Many Christians took offense to the piece. “At the time I made Piss Christ, I wasn’t trying to get anything across,” Serrano explained to the Guardian in 2012. “In hindsight, I’d say Piss Christ is a reflection of my work, not only as an artist but as a Christian.” When the piece was shown in 2011, it was vandalized “beyond repair” by a group of Christian fundamentalists armed with hammers.