The Most Controversial Art Exhibitions of All Time

Art is supposed to be controversial! Some of the best pieces of art have been controversial and this is what attracts interest. More importantly, a controversial art exhibition will ensure that you really look at the pieces and think about what the artist is trying to say.

This does not mean that all controversial art exhibitions are worth viewing! The following can be considered the most controversial of all time:

1. Kissing Doesn’t Kill

kiss paint

This piece was created in 1989 and featured several couples kissing in a bid to highlight the issues with AIDS. Although in today’s world same sex kissing is accepted, it was extremely controversial when this was created!

2. All

This exhibition was at the Guggenheim and featured all the work being hung from the ceiling. It received reviews such as ‘audacious’ and ‘ludicrous’. It also featured the artist Cattelan’s most controversial piece; that of a meteorite hitting Pope John Paul II.

3. Surrounded Islands


In Miami two artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude used 6.5 million square feet of plastic and surrounded eleven different islands in the bay. The piece was designed to highlight the isolation of island life but served to stir up a huge number of environmental campaigns.

4. Sensation

Damien Hirst is known for creating controversial art pieces. But perhaps one of his most controversial exhibitions was actually displayed in the Brooklyn museum, the Royal Academy of Art, London and the Hamburger Bahnhof; in Berlin.

The exhibition included a self portrait from his own blood, a shark in formaldehyde and even an image of serial killer Myra Hindley made with children’s handprints.

5. Multiples

This exhibition in the Arts Factory, New York was a collection of paintings completed by John Wayne Gacy; also known as the Killer Clown. The pieces he created were put into an exhibition to raise money for charity. However, this proved so controversial that many pieces were destroyed when the Arts factory was attacked!

6. What Is The Proper Way TO Display the US Flag?

usa flag

This exhibition caused outrage across the whole of the United States. It was staged in the Art Institute of Chicago and depicted various disrespectful acts to the US flag. As one of the most sacred symbols of the US even the president got involved. The piece was labeled disgraceful and funding for the Art Institute cut in half.

This is just a few of the most controversial art exhibitions; the list continues and perhaps it should. After all, art should provoke a response to ensure we think about the world around us. But, how far is it acceptable to go in this quest?