In 2005, the Today Program of Radio 4 and National Gallery summer scheme were in the search of Britain’s greatest painting. Controversy loomed around this scheme, which was seen as a great way of celebrating art. At first, it was the competition for the famous painting and later it turned out to be for Britain’s greatest painting. Artist Jack Vettriano, whose paintings adorned numerous greeting cards, was not in the top 10 list. An arts work by Rembrandt, voted for the most popular painting, was unable to find a spot in the top 10. A panel of three, including a critic, an artist, and a BBC Governor, decided the fate of these paintings in the list. The famous painters, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, and Lucian Freud were not given their due artwork credit. No painter from the 21st century was included in the list. The work of David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71) was the only painting of the 20th century to be enlisted. The oldest painting in the list was Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, which dates back to 1434. Half of the paintings were of the 19th century.
The painter of “The Marx Brothers” (1980), Andy Warhol, was amidst arts controversy quite recently. Warhol became rich and famous when his painting, “Ten Portraits” was exhibited in the Jewish Museum. Warhol accumulated a lot of money through painting portraits. He would produce portraits for people who offered him more than $37,000 for a print. The crème of the celebrity society of approximately 1,600 people were willing to pay him for a portrait. In 1979, when his artworks were exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the judges accused him of exploiting the Jewish community for money.
Artist Andy Warhol’s ‘The Marx Brothers’ (1980) made a re-entry in the Jewish Museum on March 16 as ‘Warhol’s Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered’. Other portraits that appeared in the exhibition were the works of artists Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, George Gershwin, Gertrude Stein, Golda Meir, Louis Brandeis, Martin Buber, the Marx Brothers, Sarah Bernhardt, and Sigmund Freud.
Another latest controversy troubling the arts is the work of Adam Cullen in Australia’s top prize for religious art. The controversial painting has the line “only women bleed,” engraved on the Cross with Christ. The line is inspired from an Alice Cooper song. One of the Blake Prize judges had quit the panel, strongly condemning this painting. Painters are relying on religious images to obtain a top position in the list. Another controversial religious image was that of Melbourne party boy, Corey Worthington as Jesus. The last thing the prize organizers wanted was any controversy after the last year’s provoking works of the statue of Virgin Mary in a burqa and a hologram of Christ resembling Osama bin Laden. The Prime Minister John Howard and the Archbishop of Sidney were aghast over the artworks.
Sometimes I wonder if artists create paintings out of an inherent need to express themselves or do they create paintings to shock and stir up controversy. Perhaps it is a little of both; the artist’s form of expression is controversial.
My name is Annette Labedzki. I am a Canadian abstract painter. I have been a full time artist for 25 years.