10 Famous Controversial Art Pieces In History

Added by Edan Barak on Apr 7, 2019
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The Nude Maja by Francisco Goya

The Nude Maja by Francisco Goya was finished way back in 1803. To our modern eyes it looks fairly tame (especially when compared to many of the other pieces on this list!), but it's difficult for us to completely understand just how controversial this painting was 200 years ago. At that time the nudity was shocking in itself, but it was the woman's confidence that made the painting really controversial. She appears to be looking out of the canvas, straight at the viewer - this was simply unheard of at the time.

It is true that other much earlier works such as Titian's Venus of Urbino influenced this work of art, and this piece did itself influence other, later artists: Manet is just one example, with his painting entitled Olympia. Nowadays it doesn't enjoy the same controversy as it did when it was first painted, but taking into account its sociocultural context, it remains one of the most controversial works of art of all time.

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Tilted Arc by Richard Serra

What constitutes 'art'? That's one of the questions that was posed by Richard Serra's piece entitled Tilted Arc. He designed a curved wall that was made from metal; it measured 12 feet tall and was installed in the middle of Manhattan Plaza. The aim was to make people more aware of the space they were in - instead of walking straight from building to building, this wall would force them to change direction and look at the space through new eyes. The light and the shape of the space would change with every step, altering people's perceptions. Isn't that what art is all about?

Sadly, not many people thought so. It was widely agreed that this piece was more of a hindrance than anything else, because it forced people to go out of their ways. If you ask me, that's rather sad - if you're too busy and work-focused to walk a few steps further and appreciate the space around you at the same time, then you're not living life to the full! Nevertheless, this piece was removed eventually. Ironically (and amusingly) the installation that was chosen to replace Tilted Arc ended up being even more of an obstruction to people who tried to cross the plaza! The morals of this story are: take the time to look at the world in a new way, and be careful what you wish for!

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