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10 of the Most Controversial Artworks and Art Projects


The world of art is no stranger to the provocative projects or performances. These are 10 of the most controversial artworks and art projects of all time!



1. Guernica — Pablo Picasso (1937)
This painting is lauded as one of the most powerful anti-war art pieces in history. The painting depicts a feeling of doom, a message that all we once loved will eventually be lost. Inspired by the Nazi bombing of the Spanish village after which the painting is named after, the profits raised by this mural-sized canvas were used for Spanish war relief.



2. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living — Damien Hirst (1991)
Damien Hirst is to Britart what Andy Warhol was to American pop-art. He very much defined the genre with his 1991 piece, which was a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde and vitrine. After its decay, a new shark was used again in 2006. Hirst’s work often doesn’t say anything on its own and is completely open to interpretation. This shark can invoke fear of large predators or pride about the fact that you, while just a human, are at the top of the food chain. It is whatever you want it to be.

3. Tree — Paul McCarthy(2014)
Okay, don’t be a pervert. This is a Christmas tree, not a… uhm… what you were thinking. The inflatable installation was shown in Paris around Christmas in 2014 and stirred a lot of emotions amongst journalists, art critics, and people on Tumblr. Coincidentally, this art installation brought a huge boom of sales in Parisian sex shops.



4. Fountain — Marcel Duchamp (1917)
This art piece defined contemporary art. While it’s just a urinal flipped on its side, it is most definitely art. What is art, if not objects, paintings, or sounds that stir up emotions in the individual and in society?

5. Everyone I Have Ever Slept With — Tracey Emin (1995)
Everyone I Have Ever Slept With is one of the seminal pieces of this artist. It is a tent that has the names of literally every person the artist has ever shared a bed with—platonically and sexually. The installation brought a lot of attention to the fact that some art can be incredibly personal, yet speak to every viewer as an individual nonetheless.



6. Piss Christ — Andres Serrano(1987)
To put it plainly, Piss Christ is a picture of Jesus that has been put into a glass of the artist’s urine. Like Damien Hurst’s shark, the installation is completely open to the interpretation of the viewer. It is what you want it to be—blasphemous, a critique on institutional religion, a critique on Christianity in particular, or whatever other meaning you ascribe to it.

7. Myra — Marcus Harvey (1995)
A mosaic of white, grey, and black casts of children’s hands, this is a picture of Myra Hindley. She and Ian Bradley murdered five (aged 10-17) children in Manchester, England. The press characterized Hindley as the most evil woman in Britain. When describing the exhibition where the art piece was first shown, The Sun wrote, “Myra Hindley is to be hung in the Royal Academy. Sadly it is only a painting of her.”

8. Graham, The Only Man Who Can Survive A Car Crash — Patricia Piccinini (2016)
A pure blending of art, graphic design, and science. Graham is what a person would have to look like to survive a car crash without airbags, seatbelt, or any additional safety measures. Presented as an interactive installation, this art piece allowed viewers to click on Graham’s various body parts and explore the characteristics that would make his body resilient to damage.



9. The Cathedral Performance — Pussy Riot(2012)
You might agree with them or think they are silly, but Pussy Riot’s Cathedral Performance turned out to be a magnificent critique of the connection between the Russian Orthodox Church and Vladimir Putin. The song and its performance were a protest of the church’s support for Putin, and eventually led to the arrest of three of the group’s (then) five members. This arrest was covered by international media, and many artists (including Madonna) have shown their support for Pussy Riot and demanded amnesty for its members. How much more (or less?) punk rock can an art piece get?

10. The Mona Lisa – Leonardo Da Vinci (1503-1517)
Nearly all of Da Vinci’s work is shrouded in mystery. It doesn’t help that a certain Dan Brown has turned his entire portfolio into an illuminati cult murder mystery. Whatever your opinions on The Mona Lisa (which is actually called La Gioconda) are, the biggest mystery is whether she’s actually smiling or not.