Mohamed Al-Fayed caused a stir by unveiling a statue of deceased pop singer Michael Jackson, the only man reputed to be even more eccentric than the Egyptian businessman himself. Its placement outside Fulham FC’s ground at Craven Cottage was more baffling than controversial: Jackson once watched a game in 1999, and had no other connection with the club. Ever one for good PR, Al-Fayed hit out at his critics saying ‘they can go to hell. I don’t want them to be fans’. Smooth.
So here are 10 of the most controversial statues and sculptures in history.
10. Saddam Hussein’s 65th Birthday Statue
The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square is one of the most symbolic events in the 2003 Iraq War. As the highly choreographed punchline of an already widely questioned war, the controversy surrounding the statue only increased when US troops hung the stars and stripes, only to quickly pop the old Iraqi flag up to placate the crowd. But, erected for Saddam Hussein’s 65th Birthday only a year previous, it’s undeniable that the Iraqi population held a certain contempt for it.
9. “Alison Lapper Pregnant” and the Fourth Plinth
Back in the 19th Century, Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth was supposed to feature an equestrian statue of British Monarch, William IV, but a lack of funding and later feuding kept it empty for 150 years. Eventually, the plinth came to be used by a number of temporary statues, including a replica of the HMS victory in a giant bottle and a hundred day exhibition where members of the public had an hour to exhibit and perform.
Was Mark Quinn’s ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ actually controversial? ‘Controversial’ is something of a throw-away adjective when it comes to statues. ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ depicted a woman (and fellow artist) who was born without arms and with shortened legs. Few voices criticized the subject, and most complaints were about the location, at a time when people were simply less used to the Fourth Plinth project. Perhaps no list would be complete without it, but there are definitely statues that outrank it.
8. Michelangelo’s David
From the same school of ‘no list would be complete without it’ as number 9, we tend to identify ‘David’ as controversial for merely being very accurately sculptured in a certain important area. Turns out, art historians actually find David’s John Thomas a source of controversy for a different reason: why is this Judean King uncircumcised? Add to this the contemporary squabbles between the city of Florence and the Italian Culture Ministry over who owns it, and the statue is a little more worthy of inclusion.
7. George Washington as Zeus
This rather over symbolic, bare-chested statue of the first President of the United States was originally intended for the U.S. Capitol rotunda, but widespread offense (or hilarity) kept it out of the country’s symbolic and physical heart. It debuted on the east lawn, jumping around from place to place throughout history. It can currently be found tucked away on the second floor of the National Museum of American History. Perhaps most ignominiously, the statue even made its way into Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.
6. Any Weeping Statue, Ever
It seems that claims of sacred ‘weeping’ statues have increased of late: there have been eight cases in the last decade. Even those that aren’t proven as hoaxes meet skepticism from both sides of the secular / ecclesiastical divide. The church has been known to expel people who make claims about supernaturally crying statues, and science has repeatedly attempted to attribute the phenomenon to microscopic cracks and plain old fashioned hoaxes. It usually takes the church itself to step in to speak sense to the influx of pilgrims, but certainly, people want to believe.
You could probably make a pretty good ‘top ten’ of controversial statues by just listing David Cerny’s back catalog. These contoured gentlemen urinating into a Czech-shaped pond outside the Franz Kafka museum seem like a rather obvious joke, but they’re actually an ingenious interactive exhibit: their waists swivel and they can apparently write anything you text to them. Like Ghostbusters, you probably wouldn’t want to cross the streams.
4. “Iraq War Memorial
This fake tomb, depicting the third in line to the British throne as a soldier killed in action was attempting to catch anti-war sentiment in the UK over interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but mostly caught a lot of hot air from commentators who didn’t quite believe the artistic intent of its sculptor. It was manipulative and a little too heavy handed for its own good, and thanks to the installation being inside a hotel, it was quickly forgotten.
3. “Miss Kitty”
‘Miss Kitty’ is a statue by Paolo Schmidlin that features none other than the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI wearing stockings and a blonde wig and standing provocatively. Not surprisingly, the Catholic church took offense to the statue and forced an entire exhibition around it to be removed to Florence from Milan.
2. “We Are The Champions”
Bottom, backside, bum, keister, posterior, buttocks, fanny, tooshie, ass, arse. This David Cerny statue presents itself at the FUTURA gallery, Prague in Cerny’s native Czech Republic. If you climb the ladder and stick your head where the sun doesn’t shine, you’ll be treated to a musical loop of Queen’s We Are The Champions and a short film of two politicians ‘feeding each other slop’.
1. “P***o Queen”
Any words I could write on this Paolo Schmidlin statue are completely inadequate. Defaming the Queen of the Commonwealth won’t end in you losing your head like it used to, but you’ll probably lose your lunch after seeing this thing.
This has been a Guest Post by Steph Wood, writing on behalf of Ace Fancy Dress a UK-based provider of rather more tasteful Fancy Dress costumes.