In an environment of contemporary art, a price is placed on asking the tough questions at the danger of offending viewers along the way. These works, excerpted from Phaidon’s “The 21st-Century Art Book”, are some of the most controversial artworks of the 21st century. Ranging from flamboyant displays of wealth to what could be called animal and human abuse. These pieces go beyond the limit of artistic practice while also exposing the stressed relationship between ethics and beauty. Here is a list of the most controversial artworks of the 21st century
THE CHAPMAN FAMILY COLLECTION BY JAKE & DINOS CHAPMAN (2002): The Chapman family collection is described as a collection of rare ethnographic and reliquary fetish objects that had been amassed by the Chapman family over seventy years. This installation of thirty-four wooden carvings was first exhibited at White Cube in London. However, careful inspection revealed that some unexpected elements suggesting that the objects are not what they first appear to be. One sculpture is actually a portrait of Ronald McDonald, while another is shaped like a packet of McDonald’s fries. Several also reference works by Modernist artists such as Constantin Brancusi, signifying that the installation is a remark both on the misuse of the “tribal art” style by European artists and on how fetish objects have themselves become used over time.
MY MUMMY WAS BEAUTIFUL BY YOKO ONO (2004): This public artwork inspired by the childhood memories of Yoko Ono’s late husband, John Lennon, whose mother died during his adolescence. The artwork was intended to respect motherhood more broadly. Images of a woman’s breast and crotch were distributed throughout the UK city of Liverpool. While some viewers were offended at Ono’s banners, the artist defended her descriptions by explaining that, as children, our very first encounters with the world are with the female body.
SYLVIE BY WIM DELVOYE (2006): This artwork was considered controversial because Delvoye had tattoos inked onto the skin of a pig while the animal was still alive. The tattoo was a combination of cartoon characters, religious iconography, and a host of other designs on the back of this stuffed pig. He began tattooing dead pigs in the early 1990s, but in 1997 he started working on live animals, with the intention of challenging the art market by creating living works of art. His projects are intentionally provocative, testing the limits of art and ethics. The tattooed pigs can be owned by collectors while alive, but only physically owned after their deaths. Delvoye’s also has gothic sculptures and Cloaca machines that replicate the human digestive system.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD BY DAMIEN HIRST (2007): This controversial piece of art is a human skull encrusted with 8,601 flawless pavé-set diamonds. This artwork cost £14 million to create and weighs 1,106.18 carats. It is named after the expression regularly uttered by Hirst’s mother on hearing his early ideas for artworks. This artwork was first exhibited at the White Cube gallery in London in 2007, amid heavy security, and attracted thousands of visitors. Hirst was said to have bought the skull that is said to belong to an eighteenth-century man of European/Mediterranean ancestry from a London taxidermist. Its teeth are real and belong to the skull. The piece acts as a memento mori, a reminder of the certainty of death. Hirst drew inspiration from Aztec representations of skulls as well as Mexican rituals of honouring the dead.
THE HUGO BOSS PRIZE BY HANS-PETER FELDMANN (2010): This artwork was the $100,000 honorarium paid to Feldman to exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Feldman pinned it to the walls of the gallery in neat rows of single United States dollar bills. Aside from the instantly recognizable smell, the viewer’s attention was drawn to the differences between the serially produced paper money. Some were folded, creased or defaced, and all, of course, were uniquely numbered. When the exhibition was over, the artist removed the banknotes and put them back into normal circulation.