Art is a language sometimes political or revolutionary, a communication powerful enough to change the course of history. Art is a unique form of expression different for each artist yet capable to communicate universally. It is it’s broader spectrum that allows people to conceive and experiment new mediums within the art field. Sometimes art appears morbid and bizarre and questions are raised on the definition of true art. Shock art is one of the contemporary art practices within the realm of art which in itself challenges the authority and qualification of an artist. The pieces shock artists display often start arguments that challenge ethics, and start disputes regarding the validity of such an art form.
Shock art is defined as a form of contemporary art that incorporates disturbing imagery, sound or scents to create a shocking experience. It is a way to disturb “smug, complacent and hypocritical” people. While the art form’s proponents argue that it is “imbedded with social commentary” and critics dismiss it as “cultural pollution”, it is an increasingly marketable art, described by one art critic in 2001 as “the safest kind of art that an artist can go into the business of making today”. But while shock art may attract curators and make headlines, Reason magazine’s 2007 review of The Art Newspaper suggested that traditional art shows continue to have more popular appeal.
Shock art has gradually made its mark in mainstream art realm and is increasingly being adopted by young artists. The roots of shock art run deep into art history; Royal Academy curator Norman Rosenthal noted in the catalog for the “shock art” exhibit Sensation in 1997 that artists have always been in the business of conquering “territory that hitherto has been taboo”. In China, which experienced an active “shock art” movement following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989,encroachment on the taboo has led the Ministry of Culture to attempt a crackdown on the art form, banning the use of corpses or body parts in art.
In 1998, John Windsor in The Independent said that the work of the Young British Artists seemed tame compared with that of the “shock art” of the 1970s, including “kinky outrages” at the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery, amongst which were a “hanging, anatomically detailed leather straitjacket, complete with genitals”, titled Pink Crucifixion, by Mandy Havers.
In the United States in 2008, a court case went to trial to determine whether the fetish films of Ira Isaacs constitute shock art, as the director claims, or unlawful obscenity.
Here are some examples of Shock Art
Fountain, a urinal placed on exhibit by Marcel Duchamp, a pioneer of the form, in 1917. In 2004, Fountain was selected in a survey of 500 artists and critics as “the most influential work of modern art”.
Artist’s Shit, a 1961 artwork by Piero Manzoni, consists of 90 tin cans, each filled with 30 grams (1.1 oz) of Manzoni’s faeces. A tin was sold for €124,000 at Sotheby’s on May 23, 2007, and tin 54 was sold at Christies for £182,500 on October 16, 2015.
Orgies of Mystery Theatre, by Hermann Nitsch, a display of music and dance in the midst of “dismembered animal corpses”, at 1966’s Destruction in Art Symposium.
Shoot, a 1971 performance piece by Chris Burden in which friend shot him in the arm with a .22 calibre gun from a distance of 3.5 metres (11 ft).
The Dinner Party, a 1979 exhibit by Judy Chicago in which table place settings are set as for a dinner party of famous women. The piece was controversial and labeled shock art because of its inclusion of iconic “butterflies” at each setting representative of the vulva.
Piss Christ, 1987, by Andres Serrano a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own urine.
Artist Rick Gibson made a pair of earrings with freeze-dried human fetuses (Human Earrings – 1987),[publicly ate a slice of human tonsil (A Cannibal in Waltham stow – 1988) and human testicle (A Cannibal in Vancouver – 1989) and proposed to make a diptych with a squashed rat (Sniffy the Rat – 1990).
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1992), a dead tiger shark preserved in a glass and steel tank of formaldehyde by Damien Hirst has been grouped in the category of shock art, but also criticized as an unoriginal product of “shock tactics” and not “real art”.
12 Square Meters, a 1994 performance artdisplay by Zhang Huan in Beijing wherein Huan “lathered his nude body in honey and fish oil” and exposed himself to “swarming flies and insects”.
In 1996 Gottfried Helnwein painted the Adoration of the Magi with Adolf Hitler as Baby Jesus, which was displayed at the State Russian Museum St. Petersburg, the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Denver Art Museum,Museum Ludwig and others.
Myra, (1997) a portrait of murderer Myra Hindley constructed of children’s handprints, by Marcus Harvey.
My Bed, a 1998 work by Tracey Eminconsisting of the artist’s bed covered with soiled bedsheets and surrounded by debris including menstrual-stained underwear.
Helena: The Goldfish Blender, a 2000 display of live goldfish in blenders which viewers were invited to turn on, by Marco Evaristti.
Hell, a 2000 sculpture by Jake and Dinos Chapman featuring nine nightmarish landscapes displaying thousands of hand-painted cast miniature figures of Nazis.
In 2007, Mark McGowan ate a Corgi in London to protest fox hunting by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Forget Me Knot: In 2012, Sruli Rechtdocumented a one off surgery/performance during which a plastic surgeon removed a 110mm x 10mm strip of skin from his abdomen while he was awake. The piece of skin with the hair was tanned and mounted to a 24kt gold ring.