Serving as a mirror held up to the face of the world, one of the primary functions of art is to take a closer look at nature and ourselves, reflecting a hard kernel of truth that “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”, as Picasso said. Whether it’s been the haunting smile of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, which ushered in fifteen minutes of fame for everything, art has managed to shock the public on many occasions, either from a work that has been particularly revelatory and thought provoking or one that seemed to exist for the mere sake of pomp and indulgence.
A more antiquated work of art, like Manet’s Olympia, might not seem so controversial now, but at the time it was subject to jarring criticism due to the societal mores it wilfully disregarded. Likewise, the creation of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is a more recent example of a piece of art that has been highly controversial, if only for its high price tag and the gimmick that many art critics and citizens alike believe it to be.
While the influence of some of the following pieces has not managed to go far beyond the whispers between gallery walls, others have made a distinctive impact on art and even demanded an answer from the world about its place and function.
10 Erased de Kooning – Robert Rauschenberg
9 Flag - Jasper Johns
8 The Rape - René Magritte
7 Dr Paul Gachet – Van Gogh
6 The Nude Maja – Francisco Goya
5 Guernica – Pablo Picasso
4 The Enigma of William Tell – Salvador Dali
3 The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living - Damien Hirst
2 Olympia – Eduard Manet
1 Fountain – Marcel Duchamp
Among the most cleverly appropriated objects in the catalogue of the Dada movement, Duchamp’s Fountain created quite a stir when it appeared in 1917 at an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. Starting out as a urinal that was produced by J.L. Mott Iron Works, Duchamp laid the object on its back, signed it “R. Mutt” and referred to it simply as Fountain. While the original was lost soon after the exhibition, the object was a perfect example of the anti-art ethos of Dada and remains among the most famous, and strange, of art objects.
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