Today, when Ai Weiwei’s new outdoor sculpture, Circle Heads/Zodiac Signs, debuts in Central Park, the artist won’t be around to celebrate. Instead he will be serving time in a Chinese jail because of the powerful messaging behind his controversial work and his politically-charged personal life. Inspired by Ai’s plight, we took a look back at 10 of the most controversial artists of the last century; whether they had heated personal dramas, or widely-criticized artwork, these talents helped open the eyes of patrons everywhere.
Ever the Dadaist, Duchamp’s work belongs in that crazy genre of stuff that looks like other stuff, but actually is art. His most iconic piece, 1917’s Fountain, which features a urinal turned upside down, turned heads as one of the first instances of “found art.” And although he started out simply with cubist paintings, his surrealist impulses gave way to his found objects series called “the readymades.” Fountain, Bottle Rack, and others in the series were meant to question the notion of art and persuade the viewer to look at an object’s ugliness.