niood lists the 10 Most Controversial Artworks That Changed Art History:

1. Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

For the Love of God 2007 is a life-size platinum cast of an eighteenth century human skull, covered by 8,601 flawless diamonds, inset with the original skull’s teeth. At the front of the cranium is a 52.4 carat pink diamond. Since it was first exhibited in 2007, For the Love of God has become one of the most widely recognised works of contemporary art. It represents the artist’s continued interest in mortality and notions of value.

This work of art was very controversial and generated many polemics, because of its huge cost and use of a human body part.

Damien Hirst diamond set skull 'For the Love of God' - Bentley & Skinner,  the Mayfair antique and bespoke jewellery shop in the heart of London

2. Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Picasso painted Guernica at his home in Paris in response to the 26 April 1937, bombing of Guernica, a Basque Countrytown in northern Spain which was bombed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. Upon completion, Guernica was exhibited at the Spanish display at the 1937 Paris International Exposition, and then at other venues around the world. The touring exhibition was used to raise funds for Spanish war relief. The painting soon became famous and widely acclaimed, and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.

As early as 1968, Franco had expressed an interest in having Guernica come to Spain. However, Picasso refused to allow this until the Spanish people again enjoyed a republic. He later added other conditions, such as the restoration of “public liberties and democratic institutions”.

Pablo Picasso | Il Guernica, 1937 | Art in Detail | Tutt'Art@ | Pittura •  Scultura • Poesia • Musica

3. Marcel Duchamp – Fountain, 1917

When explaining the purpose of his Readymade sculpture, Duchamp stated they are “everyday objects raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist’s act of choice.” In Duchamp’s presentation, the urinal’s orientation was altered from its usual positioning. The work is regarded by art historians and theorists of the avant-garde as a major landmark in 20th-century art.

To understand how Duchamp managed to outmanoeuvre the art world, one needs to return to the moment that the scurrilous sculpture arrived for consideration at the recently formed Society of Independent Artists in New York in spring 1917, in advance of an exhibition due to open on 10 April. As a founding member of the association, Duchamp had helped devise and articulate the organisation’s avant-garde ideology, including its commitment never to reject a work submitted by one of its members. To test the sincerity and sturdiness of those principles, Duchamp entered the urinal under an assumed artistic identity – ‘R Mutt’ – knowing full well that the provocative piece would leave his fellow players in the society scrambling for their next move.

Duchamp then watched with disappointment, if not surprise, when the question of whether to exhibit the piece was put to a vote, in hypocritical violation, he believed, of the society’s widely-publicised open-mindedness. When Fountain was rejected by fellow members on grounds of aesthetic crudity, Duchamp found his conscience suddenly cornered. Left with no other possible move, he resigned.

Fountain', Marcel Duchamp, 1917, replica 1964 | Tate

4. Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

When first exhibited, the use of printing techniques by the artist, his choice of style and the commercial subject of the artwork placed it in the center of discussions regarding ethics and its validity as a work of art, as his representation of mundane commercial products was a direct affront to abstract expressionism. These controversies helped promote Andy Warhol, thus transforming him into the most well-known pop artist worldwide.

Andy Warhol. Campbell's Soup Cans. 1962 | MoMA

5. Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, 1987

Immersion (Piss Christ) is a 1987 photograph by the American artist and photographer Andres Serrano. It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a small glass tank of the artist’s urine.

The work generated a large amount of controversy based on assertions that it was blasphemous. Serrano himself said of the controversy: “I had no idea Piss Christ would get the attention it did, since I meant neither blasphemy nor offense by it. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, so I am a follower of Christ.”

3 religious artworks that caused a scandal | Artsper Magazine

6. Guerilla Girls, Do Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, 1989

Since their inception in 1984 the Guerrilla Girls have been working to expose sexual and racial discrimination in the art world, particularly in New York, and in the wider cultural arena. The group’s members protect their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public and by assuming pseudonyms taken from such deceased famous female figures as the writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and the artist Frida Kahlo (1907-54).

Dubbing themselves the ‘conscience of the art world’, in 1985 the Guerrilla Girls began a poster campaign that targeted museums, dealers, curators, critics and artists who they felt were actively responsible for, or complicit in, the exclusion of women and non-white artists from mainstream exhibitions and publications.

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?', Guerrilla Girls,  1989 | Tate

7. Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995

Artist, thinker, and activist Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957 and grew up in difficult circumstances. His father, the poet Ai Qing, was persecuted by the Chinese Communist government and exiled to a far western province. He was later hailed as a great national poet after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. In 1981 Ai moved to New York, where he studied visual art and began working as an artist. He also developed a deep appreciation of Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades”—found objects of everyday use elevated to the status of art—and their implied critique of cultural value systems. In 1993, upon learning that his father was ill, he returned to China.

One of Ai’s most famous pieces, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), incorporates what Ai has called a “cultural readymade.” The work captures Ai as he drops a 2,000-year-old ceremonial urn, allowing it to smash to the floor at his feet. Not only did this artifact have considerable value, it also had symbolic and cultural worth. The Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) is considered a defining period in the history of Chinese civilization, and to deliberately break an iconic form from that era is equivalent to tossing away an entire inheritance of cultural meaning about China.[2] With this work, Ai began his ongoing use of antique readymade objects, demonstrating his questioning attitude toward how and by whom cultural values are created.

Some were outraged by this work, calling it an act of desecration. Ai countered by saying, “Chairman Mao used to tell us that we can only build a new world if we destroy the old one.” This statement refers to the widespread destruction of antiquities during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and the instruction that in order to build a new society one must destroy the si jiu (Four Olds): old customs, habits, culture, and ideas. By dropping the urn, Ai lets go of the social and cultural structures that impart value.

Ai Weiwei - Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) : museum

8. Tracy Emin, My Bed, 1998

My Bed is a work by the English artist Tracey Emin.

The idea for My Bed was inspired by a sexual yet depressive phase in the artist’s life when she had remained in bed for four days without eating or drinking anything but alcohol. When she looked at the vile, repulsive mess that had accumulated in her room, she suddenly realised what she had created. Emin ardently defended My Bed against critics who treated it as a farce and claimed that anyone could exhibit an unmade bed. To these claims the artist retorted, “Well, they didn’t, did they? No one had ever done that before.”

Nice process video from Tate on how Tracey Emin installs her Bed

9. Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles or Number 11, 1952

Blue Poles, also known as Number 11, 1952 is an abstract expressionist painting by American artist Jackson Pollock. It was purchased amid controversy by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 and today remains one of the gallery’s major paintings.

The acquisition of Blue Poles, however, sparked a major controversy in Australia as people protested against the high price paid for it – in fact, it was the highest price every paid for an American painting at that time. Taxpayers complained it was a waste of their money, and with few exceptions, the responses towards the painting, the National Gallery and the government were negative. Headlines like A Pollock Sold for $2-Million, Record for American Painting and Would you pay $1.3m. for this? dominated newspapers and magazines.

Here's looking at: Blue poles by Jackson Pollock

10. Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, 1863

This astonishing composition introduced an entirely new painterly approach, since it encompassed the genres of portraiture, landscape and still life within a single painting. Namely, it features a female nude on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting and a bather in the background. Manet produced this controversial work in-between 1862 and 1863 and was rejected by the notorious Paris Salon jury, so the artist displayed it at Salon des Refusés instead.

The painting caused quite a shock after it was displayed for the first time and was considered indecent and vulgar, although Manet’s contemporary and established writer and critic Émile Zola defended the work.

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe - Wikipedia