How scandalous or controversial does a visual artist need to be to get the attention of the Art World? And how much baggage does a visual artist need to cultivate his public persona and consequently sell it as “Art”?
Here a very few stories:
Caravaggio – He made some of the most powerful paintings in history, but he was a convicted killer. At that time, the public were afraid of Caravaggio. Caravaggio was as controversial for infamous temper and lengthy police records as he was for his revolutionary artwork.
Marcel Duchamp – While in Paris, when an art salon rejected his painting, “Nu Descendent un Escalier,” Duchamp had two options: He could either paint it over and call it something else, or withdraw it form the show. Faced with this choice, Duchamp took a taxi to the Quai d’Orsay in Paris and retrieved his painting and took it home, withdrawing it from the show through refusing to change it. Later, in New York, he anonymously submitted a urinal, Fountain, to an art show that stated that all works would be accepted, but Fountain was not actually displayed. By trying to solve the mystery name of the submission, an anonymous editorial wrote and story about it, and history was made. The Fountain manages to become the most influential artwork of the 20thcentury because Duchamp shifted the focus of art from a physical craft to an intellectual interpretation.
Andy Warhol – In 1964 Warhol’s painting of a can of Campbell’s soup cost $1,500 while each autographed can sold for $6. The exhibit was one of the first mass events that directly confronted the general public with both pop art and the perennial question of what art is (or of what is art and what is not). His art was scandalous for its frank approach to sexual encounters. In his last film Blue Movie as a director and superstar, Warhol makes love and fools around in bed with a man for 33 minutes of the film’s playing-time.
Damien Steven Hirst – Death is a central theme in Hirst’s works. He became famous for a series of artwork in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde. Currently, Hirst continues to create controversial pieces grasping much attention from the media, and auction houses.
Jeff Koons – In 1991, Koons married a Hungarian-born, naturalized-Italian woman named Cicciolina who was a pornography star. Cicciolina also pursued an alternate career as a member of the Italian parliament for five years from 1987-1992. His Made in Heaven series of paintings, photographs, and sculptures portrayed the couple in explicit sexual positions and created even more controversy, but received a lot of public attention.
I wonder was it these people’s personas and crazy lives that allowed their work to become famous? If they were normal people living in a house with a dog, a spouse, a white picket fence and 2.5 kids would their art have become so famous? Is this the public expectations to legitimate the career of a visual artist?