A Brief Survey of Naughty Public Art


Artist Paul McCarthy is at it again. We spotted his newest inflatable sculpture, a massive pile of feces, on Booooooom. You can see it after the jump, along with other public artworks that display a naughty, irreverent, and pervy side. It’s fascinating to observe the public’s reactions to subjects normally kept hush-hush in polite company. These installations, performances, and sculptures have nothing to hide, though. See how potty humor, private sex acts, and other naughty themes have entered the public sphere, framed by the fine art world.

Paul McCarthy’s 51-foot-tall inflatable feces sculpture is on display in Hong Kong through June 9, as part of the INFLATION! exhibition, but this isn’t the first time the artist has thrust his potty humor on passersby. In 2008, one of his inflatable turds took off in the wind, broke a few windows, and tore down power lines.

Chinese artist Cheng Li performed unsimulated sex in front of a small audience in the basement and on the balcony of the Contemporary Art Exhibition Hall in Beijing. “The popular trend of commercializing art is nothing but a trade of sex for commercial benefits,” the artist stated before he was sentenced to a year of “reeducation through labor” for his X-rated performance.

Spencer Tunick has been organizing large-scale nude photo shoots since 1994. His writhing human installations — usually numbering into the hundreds and thousands — have appeared in department stores, train stations, bridges, and more. Tunick believes bodies en masse lose their sexuality, but unsuspecting onlookers haven’t always agreed.

Giant breasts (Bubble Woman) next to a toilet waterfall in South China’s Guangdong province.

Clifford Owens’ Anthology — a series of performances in which he acted out written instructions from a group of artists — push boundaries. At one of Owens’ “scores” at MoMA PS1, the artist was set to carry out some extreme, potentially non-consensual acts dictated by Kara Walker (she stated that she didn’t expect him to take them literally):

“French kiss an audience member. Force them against a wall and demand sex. The audience/viewer should be an adult. If they are willing to participate in the forced sex act abruptly turn the tables and you assume the role of victim. Accuse your attacker. Seek help from others, describe your ordeal. Repeat.”

Things didn’t go quite as planned, but many attendees were groped by the artist at previous performances.

Photo credit: Alberto Mayo

Richard Jackson’s 28-foot sculpture of a Labrador Retriever urinating on the side of the Orange County Museum of Art was rigged to spray yellow paint on the building. Bad Dog was part of Jackson’s retrospective that ended earlier this month. Some suggested the work was a comment on the art world or the museum’s architecture, but Jackson has a history of pushing the boundaries of painting so there may be no deeper explanation than that. “We’ll see how long it lasts. I don’t think it’s such a big deal, but you never know how people will react,” he said earlier this year. “Sometimes people feel they should protect their children from such things, then the kids go home and watch South Park.”

Czech sculptor David Černý has frequently courted controversy for his irreverent artworks, and his public sculpture Nation to Itself was no exception. The large, gold statue of a man was scheduled to be installed on top of the Prague National Theatre where it would occasionally spray water from between its legs to add an “air of surprise.” The theater board canceled the installation fearing it would piss theatergoers off, and well, because it looked like a man pissing through the air.

There was also that time Černý made a sculpture that allowed people to stare through a towering figure’s anus.

For nine days, hours a day, Vito Acconci masturbated while hidden below the floorboards of a New York Gallery for his public performance, Seedbed. Acconci also vocalized his sexual fantasies about the visitors above him through a microphone. The work was a metaphor for the reciprocal creative process, but there’s no denying Seedbed‘s erotic, voyeuristic qualities.

You will never see people more excited about frolicking naked with raw meat in wet paint. The title Meat Joy is entirely fitting. Artist Carolee Schneemann viewed the 1964 public performance as a “Dionysian,” “excessive,” “indulgent,” “erotic rite.”

Polish artist Wojciech Kosma composes performances for the human body that often test endurance. In Blow Job, the artist had female participants performing oral sex on a microphone in front of an audience, creating a bizarre orchestra of sounds. “Documentation is porn, performing is having sex,” the artist stated.

A Russian spa wants your colon to be squeaky-clean, so they erected this absurd, bronze enema bulb — 800 pounds and supported by three cherubs — to let you know. “An enema is almost a symbol of our region,” the spa owner told press. A banner accompanied the installation of the enema bulb that read: “Let’s beat constipation and sloppiness with enemas.”

In Zefrey Throwell’s version of strip poker, 48 people agreed to take it off during a weeklong game of cards from morning until night in a New York City gallery window. I’ll Raise You One… was a comment on the growing economic disparity, but for some, it was a simply a bunch of naked people playing cards.