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[Best of 2015] The Year in Controversial Art

Donald Trump Butt Plugs, bronze Bill Cosby (in the nude), and dead bodies dancing, oh my!

Edwards' 3D models of Fat Albert and Bill Cosby. Images courtesy the artist & Cory Allen Contemporary Art

Controversy may be inherently subjective, but there were certain ideas and actions in 2015 that truly warranted the word. Perhaps this was due to the increased accessibility of dissenters; comment sections abound for those with an urge to object to that exhibition, or this project proposal. Or perhaps this was the result of artists feeling a mounting pressure to push boundaries and “do something new.” Whatever the reason, this year granted us too many controversies to count. Those below are the special events that shoved us out of our comfort zones, made us reevaluate our preconceptions, and prompted important questions, like would I donate my body to become a sculpture OR an Icelandic man's dance partner? 

Answer these question and ask many more with our selection of this year’s most controversial art: 

+ Early in the year, a bronze nude statue of Bill Cosby, sculpted by 15-year-old prodigy Rodman Daniel Edwards, was proposed as a replacement to the Dr. Cliff Huxtable monument outside of the TV Hall of Fame in Orlando. The design featured Cosby, in a Vitruvian Man stance, with a similarly styled Fat Albert placed atop his genitals. 

+ The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art underwent a barrage of criticism after going forward with their Conversations exhibit featuring never-seen works from the collection of Camille and Bill Cosby. They eventually posted a sign outside the show’s entrance which read, “We continue to present Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue because it is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not Mr. Cosby.” 

Photo by Manolis Baboussis. Courtesy the artist, Cheim & Read and Gavin Brown's enterprise. Copyright the artist

+ Animal rights activists animatedly objected to the re-staging of Untitled (12 Horses) by Jannis Kounellis, which first showed in 1969 in Rome for Arte Povera. Meanwhile Jerry Saltz gave the show a rave review

+ Richard Prince managed to make news at this year’s Frieze New York (and perhaps it would be more news-worthy for Prince not to make news at a major art fair) for his New Portraits, a series of Instagram and Facebook photographs culled from various (young, mostly female, mostly half-dressed) users. The Suicide Girls, one of the featured Instagramers Prince appropriated, spoke up – so we spoke to them

Image via

+ Kendall Jenner served as target practice for graffiti artist KATSU’s new tagging-by-drone technique. The success of this first ever instance of “public drone vandalism” bodes well for KATSU’s developing urban art technologies which marry a DJI Phantom and lots of paint. 

+ A recreation of the lifeless body of Michael Brown, sculpted by artist Ti-Rock Moore, caused a stir in a Chicago Gallery for an exhibit titled Confronting Truths: Wake Up!

+ “Looking for dead bodies in the name of the art. I need a corpse for a video installation. If you are dying I would like to borrow your remains after you die. The body will be returned to the undertaker in the 'same' condition,” said Icelandic artist Snorri Ásmundsson in a post on his Facebook page. The corpse collaborator will star in a performance piece in which Ásumundsson will dance with the selected body. As far as we know, applications are still open. 

Body donor hypostasis sample. Photo courtesy of Christine Borland and Brody Condon

+ Two artists at the University of Glaskow, Christine Borland and Brody Condon, are using cadavers to make ceramics. The bodies are imprinted with a circular sculpture and the marks left in their skin, through a process called hypostasis, are then recreated with ancient pottery techniques into large, geometric installations. 

+ Late last month, police patrolling near the Jaipur Art Summit detained two artists for their life-size cow balloon entitled Bovine Divine after reports that the flying effigy was offensive to Hindus. (The police commissioner of Jaipur later apologized for the incident).

+ After a speech in which Donald Trump berated Mexican immigrants, Mexican-American artist Fernando Sosa manufactured an exquisitely detailed Donald Trump Butt Plug. His collection caters to an international array of tastes, including models of Vladmir Putin, Kim Jong U, and Lorne Michaels.   

Images courtesy the artist

Related:

[Best of 2015] The Year in Projection Mapping

[Best of 2015] The Year in Photography

[Best of 2015] The Year in Sculpture