The 10 Most Controversial Artworks of 2014

Lucy Andia

2014 has been a busy year for artists looking to kick up a storm. Overtly sexual themes, hate groups and human zoos are just some of the themes artists displayed in the last 12 months. We look at some of the best (and worst) controversial artworks of 2014.

Paul McCarthy’s ‘Tree’

In October, American artist Paul McCarthy erected Tree a ‘Christmas’-themed artwork in Place Vendome in Paris. Viewers instantly questioned his decision to construct a Christmas tree sculpture in the shape of a butt plug. Arguably a fitting accompaniment to the square’s Napoleonic phallic exaggeration, ahem, victory column, Parisians were nonetheless outraged. No matter, President Hollande supported it and butt plug sales are apparently soaring.

Milo Moire’s ‘PlopEgg’

At Art Cologne this year, artist Milo Moire stood naked atop two stepladders over a white canvas. As fully clothed passersby went about their daily business around her, Moire squatted and squeezed paint filled eggs out of her vagina. She called the resultant abstract painting ‘PlogEgg’. Moire gave birth to a picture, and while critics can question the point of her performance, it is undeniably an amusing play on words.

Deborah de Robertis’s ‘Origin of the World’

In May this year, de Robertis visited the Musee d’Orsay to reenact Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde (1866). She had issue with this iconic image and felt she needed to correct an error. ‘In his realist painting, the painter shows the open legs, but the vagina remains closed. He does not reveal the hole, that is to say, the eye,’ she said. In an aim to right this wrong, she sat in front of the painting, gold dress around her waist, legs apart and showing museum visitors her ‘eye’. Museum guards on duty did not take kindly to this ‘art historical intervention’ and have since filed sexual exhibitionist complaints.

Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibition B’

South African artist Brett Bailey’s human zoos present an uncomfortable experience for both the viewer and the performer. Can a white South African from an affluent background discuss racial oppression by creating a human zoo? Referencing the 19th century ethnological freak shows of the Hottentot Venus and the Congolese pygmies as well as the trajectory of black oppression, Bailey’s installation is comprised of living images. A woman is chained to a colonialist’s bedpost and a man sits behind bars, locking eyes with the spectator. The exhibition was withdrawn from the Barbican in London’s program as campaigners condemned it as ‘complicit racism’.

Lana Newstrom’s Invisible Art

A beautifully conceived artwork, Newstrom explained her piece by stating, ‘art is about imagination and that is what my work demands of the people interacting with it. You have to imagine a painting or sculpture is in front of you’. Her work conveys a delicate intimacy, as your imagination follows its contours with bewilderment and fondness, it is impossible not to feel the artwork was created exclusively for you. Tapping into one’s private hopes and fears, never has art felt so closely in tune with the inside of one’s mind. Unfortunately this story was a hoax, there is no Lana Newstrom. Regardless or perhaps because of this, she certainly makes this list.

Luke Turner, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Shia LaBeouf’s #IAMSORRY

In this bizarre installation at Los Angeles’s Cohen Gallery this February, actor Shia LaBeouf sat in a room with a paper bag on his head bearing the words ‘I am not famous anymore’. On a table outside lay an array of objects including but not limited to a whip, vase of daisies, a pink ukulele, plastic robot, and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Visitors were invited to interact with LeBeouf and encouraged to use the objects as props or inspiration. During the course of this exhibition, a woman came in, and taking the invitation literally, allegedly raped LeBeouf, leading one to question the danger of the increasingly blurred lines and crossed boundaries of performance art.

Serhat Tanyolacar’s KKK Sculpture at the University of Iowa

Serhat Tanyolacar created a Klu Klux Klan shaped figure in a robe constructed of newspapers depicting 100 years racial violence in the U.S. The piece was almost immediately removed because of its offensive nature. However, Tanyolacar claims he did not intend to offend, but to raise awareness. The news articles and images employed date from 1908 to 2010. The ongoing issue of racism in the U.S. is an issue Tanyolacar does not want removed from campus or consciousness.

Tony Matelli’s ‘Sleepwalker’

One white winter morning, students of the all-female Wellesley College awoke to find on their campus green a sculpture of a man wearing nothing but white pants and snow on his shoulders, arms outstretched and eyes closed. While artist Tony Matelli – responsible for the Sleepwalker sculpture – says he intended to arouse empathy, not disgust, hundreds of students signed a petition asking for it to be removed. You can see the work as part of the Wanderlust exhibition on New York’s The High Line.

Ryder Ripps’ ‘Art Whore’

Earlier this year, artist Ryder Ripps, ‘an artist of the internet’, was invited to spend a night at New York City’s Ace Hotel as part of the Artists in Residency program. In return for a free sleep he was expected to produce a piece of art for the hotel. In response, he invited a male and female ‘masseuses’ found on Craigslist to share his room. He asked them to draw whatever they liked, filmed it, paid them $80 and called the project Art Whore. Is this simple exploitation or is it a meaningful criticism exploring differing forms of prostitution? Critics can’t seem to agree.

Jake and Dino Chapman’s ‘Come and See’ Exhibition

Jake and Dino Chapman’s Come and See show at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery set the bar for controversial, if not also playful, artworks at the beginning of 2014 incredibly high. With a troupe of KKK figures completed with rainbow socks, smiley face badges and sandals, Ronald McDonald crucified repeatedly, and the living dead riding aback a turtle, the Chapman brothers poked fun and irreverently questioned what we find acceptable in our quotidian existences.

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