How far is too far? (This far) Controversy in Art

Having sat through years and years of art history courses, I know that it is not uncommon to hear that ‘this work was very controversial at the time’.  In fact, that seems to be a recurring theme for some very influential artworks (Duchamp’s Fountain comes to mind, probably due to the years and years of art history courses that included this piece…).  It seems that artists are especially talented at pushing buttons and making others angry.  A couple years ago, Guillermo Vargas’ Exposicion N° 1 got everyone riled up as the artist presented a stray dog that was chained to a wall and supposedly left to starve (the director of the gallery claims that this was not the case).  More recently in the world of controversy in art, Damien Hirst was in the news for an exhibit at Tate Modern, throughout which it was reported that over 9,000 butterflies died.

 And now, this guy…  Carl Michael von Hausswolff stole ashes of victims of the Holocaust from the Majdanek camp and then, mixed with water, he made a small ‘painting’ out of them.  It’s like he’s met me and figured out exactly how to push every one of my buttons.  Here I am, born in Poland with a strong interest in that part of my culture’s history, creating my versions of what I hope are very respectful memorials for those who have died in unexpected and certainly unfair ways, and he’s stealing ashes from a concentration camp only to play with them and paint them onto a canvas.  I think there’s a line between being an artist and a decent human being and he’s certainly crossed it.  At a certain point, he should have realized that perhaps ‘making a statement’ (and in this case, a statement about what?!) is not a valid excuse for desecrating human remains in order to call it ‘artwork’.  To even have the thought of stealing ashes enter one’s mind, while standing on the same ground on which individuals were murdered makes him one of my least favorite people.  Yes, I understand that he is a creative individual looking for his big break, perhaps through a controversial piece, however, we are all just humans above anything else, and certain rules apply. Rules that have to do with respect and understanding and an attempt to understand each other and our pasts.  Although I respect an artist’s right to voice his or her own opinions through their work, I find Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s work to be less thought provoking and more upsetting.  I’d much rather prefer to be offended by a publicly displayed urinal than this…


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