Artists have been causing scenes for all of history. What do they get out of it, other than that sweet satisfaction of getting attention? Well, controversial artists insist that their epic stunts are more than just vehicles for shock value, but these 10 examples have us feeling pretty doubtful. Honestly, some have us feeling like taking a hot shower.
By the time the Vatican had commissioned Michelangelo to work on their fresco, the artist was well into his career. It had been 25 years since he’d painted the Sistine Chapel, and he was growing tired of religious affiliations. So, he decided to have a little fun.
Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images
Michelangelo’s painting depicted Jesus with (gasp) no beard. Not to mention, the pagan-inspired piece showcased over 300 fully-nude men. The men were later covered up in the church’s “fig-leaf campaign.” How didn’t the Vatican notice him doing this?
Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images
Fasten your toilet seat, folks. Artist Marcel Duchamp submitted an anonymous piece to the Society of Independent Artists, which he co-founded, Some say he did it because the society was getting a reputation for accepting anyone’s work, so long as they could provide the fee. Duchamp wanted to test this.
Duchamp’s submission was a porcelain urinal, which he’d signed “R. Mutt 1917.” He included the handsome fee, yet his piece was, naturally, denied. This stunt created larger discussions about art and profit. The original urinal was tossed out, but if you’d like your own, there are thousands of replicas available online.
Photo by Alfred Stieglitz/Wikipedia
Caravaggio had his fair share of controversies. However, his unconventional methods bothered no one more than the Roman Catholic Church. His painting of St. Matthew infuriated the critics. But why?
Caravaggio had modeled Saint Matthew after a homeless man. The church was repulsed by the man’s dirty feet, which seemed to leap out of the frame. They also disliked that an angel was reading to the beggar, implying he was illiterate. Considering the backlash, it’s clear Caravaggio was making a good point.
The name here kinda gives it away. Ai Weiwei, a Chinese activist and artist, had bought and destroyed a 2,000-year-old urn used in ancient ceremonies. Needless to say, the Chinese, who have a deep respect for history, were not amused.
The public claimed Ai’s destruction of this powerful symbol was incredibly disrespectful. But Ai insisted that letting go of the past is a necessary step toward growth. Even so, many wondered if he really needed to destroy something so valuable to make his point. Well, we’re still talking about it, aren’t we?
Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
What’s for supper? At Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, you can expect quite the feast. Her art installation featured 39 women from history, each given their own place setting at a triangular table. What’s wrong with a little feminist representation? Well, these weren’t ordinary place settings.
Judy Chicago/Artist Rights Society (ARS) New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS NY
The exhibit featured the likes of Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony, and Sacajawea… however, they were each represented with vulvas. Visitors were shocked, disgusted, and perhaps a bit intrigued. If you’re feeling curious, the exhibit is permanently on display at the Brooklyn Museum.
Judy Chicago. Press Image / Through the Flower Archives
What exactly are you looking at? This piece was “created” by Robert Rauschenberg. He’d asked the expressionist artist, Willem de Kooning, to give him a drawing he no longer wanted. His true intentions were… interesting, to say the least.
Robert Rauschenberg/Open Culture
Rauschenberg spent two months erasing Kooning’s entire drawing before presenting it to the world. What did the original look like? Why was it erased? What does it say about abstract art? The answer was a resounding, “Meh.” Even Kooning found it to be a sad stunt.
Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images
Everyone loves hating Yoko Ono, but that’s never stopped her from performing over-the-top artistic stunts. After her Cut Piece performance, where she allowed audience members to have-at her clothes with a pair of scissors while she sat in silence, many were inspired to take the concept even further.
Francois Guillot/Getty Images
Marina Abramovic claims she wasn’t inspired by Yoko’s piece, though these stunts hold striking resemblance. In her Rhythm 0 performance, Marina nearly died when she allowed the audience to use 72 object to “do what they desired.” Six hours later, she was bloody, scarred, and held at gunpoint. That’s human nature for you.
Marina Abramovic Institue
When she was just 21, architecture student Maya Lin entered and won a contest to create a military tribute for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Her minimalistic “V” design would be lined with the names of 58,000 soldiers lost to the war. What was the problem?
Lin said her design represented “a wound that is closed and healing.” However, some felt it was dishonorable, including 27 Republican congressmen who wrote to President Reagan in protest. Instead, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial incorporated the second-place winner’s design and called it a day.
This is what happens when you let artists go wild. An exhibit called Sensation featured an array of polarizing artists whose work included sculptures of sharks in formaldehyde and self portraits finger-painted with blood. Among them was Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, dubbed most-offensive of them all.
Photo by Damien Hirst (1991)/Wikipedia
Ofili’s collage baffled the public, including mayor Rudy Guliani, who called the whole exhibit “sick stuff.” The piece was covered in clippings from pornographic magazines and heaps of glittery elephant excrement. Today, you can find the resin-coated wonder glittering in the Museum of Modern Art.
DOUG KANTER/AFP via Getty Images
Are you easily grossed out? Apparently, people in the late 1800’s were, which is a surprise considering how rural life was back then. Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic, which depicted the operating room of Dr. Samuel Gross, was quite-appropriately named. For some, the details were far too real.
Photo by Thomas Eakins/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Dr. Gross’s hands, which held a recently used scalpel, were covered in blood. Next to him, a woman covered her eyes in horror (perhaps because he wasn’t wearing gloves). Despite the gore, Eakins’ work would be rated PG these days.
Photo by Thomas Eakins/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most famous pieces of art ever created. There is so much mystery surrounding Mona Lisa that historians continue to study the painting today, and after all these years she still has secrets to reveal…
In 2015, a French scientist using reflective light technology discovered a portrait of another woman hiding beneath the painting we see now. The underlying portrait is believed to be Da Vinci’s first draft of the famous painting, but it’s difficult to confirm if that belief is true or not.
The Netherlandish artist’s painting depicts Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, an Italian merchant, and his wife, Constanza Trenta. While the renowned work is impressive in itself, there’s more to the painting than meets the eye…
Take a closer look, you’ll see a mirror centered in the background of the painting. Reflected in the mirror are two other figures who appear to be looking at the Arnolfini’s. Based on our logic of mirrors, one of the figures is presumed to be the artist, Van Eyck, subtly eternalizing himself in the portrait.
Arguably one of the greatest sculptures of all time, Michelangelo’s statue of David stands 17 feet tall. Seriously, we have to admit, David doesn’t really have a bad angle going for him. But looking up at David does distort one thing that might change the way you consider the work.
David is positioned in a heroic manner. Due to its size, when we admire the statue we are forced to look up at him. His body is anatomical perfection, and, paired with his confident stance, David is often thought to be sculpted as “hero.” Looking at David at eye level reveals a different story. His expression shows concern and fear, which makes sense given he is about to engage in a battle with Goliath!
This work showcases two rich ambassadors, seemingly healthy and in their prime, surrounded with their fine material goods. While the portrait is strikingly rich in color, the hues defy the underlying message of the work, which is far from vivifying.
Looming at the feet of the ambassadors is an anamorphic perspective of a skull. This piece was intended to hang in a stairwell so, at the angle of ascension, the skull would jump right out at you. The skull was to serve as a memento mori, which translates to, “remember you will die.” So much for a welcome mat, huh?
Despite his name, Pieter Bruegel the Elder is not a wizard. Unfortunately. What he is though, is one of the most notable artists of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. In 1559, he created the Netherlandish Proverbs. It may look more like a Neanderthal-ish bedlam, but this raucous scene is actually telling a story — 112 stories to be exact!
The artist is known for inserting the absurdity of humanity in his work, and he didn’t miss a beat with this one. The painting literally illustrates 112 different proverbs and sayings from the Netherlands. Some of which include, “To be a pillar biter” and “Armed to the teeth.” But the real proverb here is, if you’re not Dutch, you’re not getting much (at least not much face time in a Bruegel painting)!
The Sistine Chapel. You may have heard of it — the big, painted chapel in the Apostolic Palace, nestled in the Vatican City. Well, way back in 1512, Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the story of Genesis across 9 sections of the concave ceiling. Some speculate that beyond a masterpiece, the artist also left behind a message…
Michelangelo spent many years studying human anatomy. With that deep understanding, the artist was able to depict people with greater realism and insert more cerebral meaning into his paintings. In this famous section, God is surrounded by what looks like a brain. This insinuates that not only did God give Adam life, but also the ability to reason and think.
The Last Supper is almost as famous for its rumors of secret meanings as it is for its artistic brilliance. Da Vinci was unique in his genius, and much of that is to due to his vast and diverse passions. Not only an artist, Da Vinci identified as a mathematician, scientist, inventor, and even a musician.
And when a fellow musician admired Da Vinci’s work, he noticed something peculiar. When the five lines of a musical staff are drawn across the supper, the bread rolls combined with the apostle’s hands create musical notes. When you follow Da Vinci’s signature style of right to left, the notes make up a 40-second musical composition.
This scene’s so charming, you can almost hear accordions. Some art historians have a different take on this painting though. There are theories that posit this café might have a more symbolic impetus, coming from the son of a Protestant minister…
There have been many comparisons with Van Gogh’s Café Terrace and Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The central figure in white is thought to be a representation of Jesus, while the dark figure in the doorway is speculated to represent Judas.
There is a good story here, but first let’s take a moment to appreciate the name of this painting’s creator, Hieronymus Bosch. Ohhh, it’s so good! Hieronymus Bosch is the creator behind this triptych oil painting titled, The Garden of Earthly Delights. What is even more delightful are the secret, behind-the-scenes notes…
These notes, found on the bottom of a tortured soul in the “hell panel” of the painting, translate into approximately 28 seconds of what can only be described as a reject Nokia ringtone. This melody is widely referred to as “the butt-song from hell.”
The legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo had a husband who was, apparently, a painter as well. Just kidding, Diego Rivera is totally a big shot. Due to his notoriety, in the early 1940s, Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Rivera to paint a mural, Man at the Crossroads for the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Alas, even the richest of the rich don’t always get exactly what they want…
Young Rockefeller didn’t appreciate the inclusion of the communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in the mural, so he had the painting destroyed. In response, Rivera re-created the mural in 1943 in Mexico city and titled it, Man, the Center of the Universe. Not only was Lenin even more prominently featured in this mural, but Rivera, not so coyly, painted in Rockefeller’s father below the bacterial illustration of syphilis.
These pieces of art are already incredible as they stand, but how amazing that they pack so much more depth! Many artists used the technique of implanting secret messages within their works, but some artists had things to say that were a little more out of this world…
1. St. John the Baptist (1513 – 1516): Leonardo Da Vinci is known for leaving hidden codes in his work. Well, if you join two mirror images of this painting, the face of an alien figure can be seen. Was he trying to send us a message?
Leonardo da Vinci
2. “Charama, India, Cave Paintings” (8,000 B.C.): Archaeologists have discovered alien-like paintings inside an Indian cave. Scientists have gone straight to NASA to investigate whether or not these paintings prove aliens visited our planet 10,000 years ago.
Times of India
3. “Two Dutch Ships” (unknown): Although the artist and era of this painting are unknown, it can be seen that two Dutch ships are sailing towards floating orbs in the sky. Upon further inspection, there appear to be faces inside the orbs suggesting that this is a UFO sighting.
4. UFO sighting outside Windsor Castle (1783): This painting depicts Thomas Sandby’s account of a pale blue object entering the night sky from beyond. He recounted that the glowing orb came to a halt and moved directions at one point during the encounter.
5. Mayan carving (1st Century): Carved in stone, there is a man worshiping or surrendering to an alien-type figure hovering above. Some suggest the UFO carving is really just a representation of an ancient Mayan god, but the extraterrestrial reference is strong.
6. The Annunciation With Saint Emidus (1486): Painted by Carlo Crivelli, this work depicts the Virgin Mary just before she learns she is going to give birth to Jesus Christ. The light beaming down on her is either the halo of the Lord… or it’s a UFO and a sign that Mary was abducted, depending on who you ask.
7. The Crucifixion Of Christ (1350): This painting, which hangs above the Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo, depicts the crucifixion of Christ. Supposedly, the objects in the upper corners are some sort of spacecraft!
8. The Baptism Of Christ (1710): Showing the baptism of Jesus, this painting by Aert de Gelder features four separate beams of light. Some believe this demonstrates that the disc in the sky is actually a UFO.
Aert de Gelde
9. The Madonna With Saint Giovannino (late 1400s): Domenico Ghirlandaio painted an object over the Madonna’s left believed by some to be a UFO. A man is staring at it in the distance and a dog seems to be barking at it as well.
10. Triumph Of Summer Tapestry (1538): This tapestry was created in Bruges, Belgium, and features depictions of three strange objects in the sky. They don’t seem to match any known religious symbols, and the scene on the tapestry is of a ruler’s rise to power.
11. La Tebaide (mid-1400s): This painting shows a number of scenes from monastic life in the 15th century, as well as the Crucifixion. Some point to the red disc at the bottom as a sign of something alien, but debunkers say it’s nothing but the hat style commonly worn by cardinals at the time.
12. The Miracle Of The Snow (1428-1432): Painted by Masolino da Panicale, it evidently shows a snowfall that happened on a hot August day in Italy. Many believe the clouds might really be representative of something far more otherworldly.
Masolino da Panicale
13. “Israel, Put Your Hope In The Lord” Painting (circa 1600s): Residing now in the Church of the Dominican Monastery in Sighisoara, Romania, this eerie painting shows a church on fire. Above it appears to be some sort of UFO wreaking havoc.
14. Glorification Of The Eucharist (early 1600s): Painted by Ventura Salimbeni, it’s hard not to notice the globe in the middle of the work. Some say it’s evidence of time travel, while experts suggest it’s a “creation globe,” and the antennas are actually wands used by God and Jesus.
15. The Crucifixion Of Christ (circa 1600s): Found in the Svetishoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia, this painting apparently shows two flying objects on either side of Christ during the Crucifixion. Some believe this is proof that Jesus was some form of human-alien hybrid.
The Crucifixion Of Christ
16. Saint Wolfgang and the Devil (circa 1475): This piece by Michael Pacher shows Saint Wolfgang himself getting help from some devilish alien creature to build his church.
17. Egyptian Pictograph (400 B.C.): This pictograph appears to show a male Egyptian offering a live bird to a cloaked alien figure of some sort. Potentially a peace offering after unwanted aliens invaded earth?
18. “Une No Chiri” (1803): Published in a book in the 19th century, this illustration depicts a real-life artifact that was found at Haratonohama by Japanese sailors. According to the explanation on the drawing, the outside was made of iron and glass.
Ume No Chiri
19. Foppa Adorazione (1478): This painting has a hidden message lurking in the back. A man can be seen standing on the hill looking up at a glowing orb. Some argue that this divine painting depicts belief of extraterrestrial life.
20. Mona Lisa (1503) Another example of Leonardo da Vinci leaving hidden messages in his work, comes from one of his most famous paintings. If you place two mirror images of the Mona Lisa side-by-side, an alien’s face becomes clearly visible.
Leonardo da Vinci