Shock art is 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.
While the movement has become increasingly mainstream, 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 artform, 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.
Select notable examples
- 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".
- 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 Walthamstow - 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 criticised as an unoriginal product of "shock tactics" and not "real art".
- 12 Square Meters, a 1994 performance art display 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.
- The Holy Virgin Mary, a black Virgin Mary, with elephant dung, before a background of pornography, by Chris Ofili.
- My Bed, a 1998 work by Tracey Emin consisting of the artist's bed covered with soiled bedsheets and surrounded by debris including mentrual-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 Recht documented 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.
- Shock rock
- New Gothic Art
- Transgressive art
- Robert Mapplethorpe
- Kara Walker
- Raymond Pettibon
- Abdul Vas
- Mary Kelly
- Dash Snow
- Rick Gibson
- Jonathan Meese
- Joel-Peter Witkin
- Tal R
- Viennese Actionism
- Günter Brus
- Owen, Richard. (June 12, 2007). The work of art that didn't do what it said on the tin The Times (London). Accessed October 31, 2007.
- R. Rawdon Wilson (2002) The hydra's tale: imagining disgust p.27
- Silberman, Vanessa. (March 2001) Inside shock art. Art Business News Accessed October 31, 2007.
- Sawhill, Ray. (October 12, 2000). Art for politics' sake. Salon. Accessed October 31, 2007.
- Miller, Cheryl. (January 2007) Crying censorship. Reason Accessed October 31, 2007.
- Pearlman, Ellen. Zhang Huan altered states. The Brooklyn Rail. Accessed October 31, 2007.
- Baby-eating art show sparks upset. BBC. (January 3, 2003). Accessed October 31, 2007.
- Pomfret, John (July 31, 2001). "Shock artists take freedom to new lows". The Washington Post. pp. Style.
- Windsor, John. "Art 98: Collecting—Let the love affair begin", The Independent, 17 January 1998. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
- "'Shock Art' or Porn?". National Public Radio. 2008-06-10. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
- AP (2008-06-13). "'Shock art' trial stalled by porn report on judge". Times of India. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-12-07.[dead link]
- World's best art piece? A urinal CNN. (December 2, 2004). Accessed October 31, 2007.
- Mahoney, Jeff (1 October 1999). "The 20th Century Has Seen Plenty of Examples of Shock Art". The Spectator. p. A.12. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- Walsh, Erica. "Museums and Culture: the Brooklyn Museum". travelchannel.com. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
- Robinson, Hilary (2001). Feminism-art-theory: An Anthology, 1968-2000. Blackwell Publishing. p. 536. ISBN 0-631-20850-X.
- Babich, Babette E. (2006). Words in blood, like flowers: philosophy and poetry, music and eros in Hölderlin, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. SUNY series in contemporary continental philosophy. SUNY Press. p. 202. ISBN 0-7914-6835-6.
- "Outraging public decency with foetus earrings", The Times (London, United Kingdom), 12 July 1990: 37
- Young, Andrew (4 August 1988), "Rick eats his mate’s tonsils on a cracker!", The Sun (Plymouth, United Kingdom): 3
- "Never Mind the Bollocks…", Time Out (London, United Kingdom), 12 April 1989: 11
- Stueck, Wendy (15 July 1989), "Would-be cannibal’s appetizer confiscated", Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, Canada): A7
- Kastor, Elizabeth (6 January 1990). "Snuffing Sniffy for Art". The Washington Post (Washington, DC, USA): D1, D7.
- Kastor, Elizabeth (7 January 1990). "Sniffy Unscathed by Art". The Washington Post (Washington, DC, USA): D1, D3.
- Alberge, Dalya (April 10, 2003). "Traditionalists mount shark attack on Hirst", The Times: London. Accessed June 3, 2010.
- Julia Pascal, Nazi Dreaming, New Statesman, UK, 10 April 2006,
- Gwen F. Chanzit, Denver Art Museum, "Radar, Selections from the Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan", 2006
- "Beyond Shock Value". Newsweek. 9 November 2003. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- Zinsmeister, Karl. When art becomes inhuman. The American Enterprise, a magazine of Politics, Business, and Culture. Hosted with permission at Art Renewal Center. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, June 3, 2010.
- Field, Corinne (3 October 2003). "Jake & Dinos Chapman - A Retrospective At The Saatchi Gallery". Culture 24. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Shock Art Hits London". BBC. 23 September 2000. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Mark McGowan to re-enact the death of Raoul Moat". spoonfed. 20 August 2010. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- "Art that Shocks". cbc.ca. 3 December 2007. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- / "Sruli Recht, Designer, Creates 'Forget Me Knot' Skin Ring Featuring Slice Of His Own Flesh". huffington post. 22 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- Shock art show opens. BBC.
- Shock of the nude: the artistic license to offend Partial Observer
- In Flagrante: Shock Art and Dirty Politics "American Repertory Theater"
- Shock art with horror for all to enjoy The Guardian
- Bloodied but unbowed The Sunday Times
- Shock Art: Round Up the Usual Defenses The New York Times
- Artists have rights, and so do taxpayers The New York Times