10 Controversial Works Of Art That Were Removed or Destroyed

Art is subjective. Sometimes a work of art is so different it can cause an extreme reaction.

Statues can be erected in tribute to an important person while simultaneously serving as a piece of art to the community, but oh how the mighty sometimes fall! Who can forget the statue of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad being symbolically toppled over, marking the end of the oppressive dictator's reign?

Here are ten examples of artwork that were moved and/or destroyed due to controversy.

1Diego Rivera Mural "Man At The Crossroads"

In 1932, Diego Rivera, one of Mexico's best-known muralists, was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to paint a mural in the Radio Corporation Arts Building at Rockefeller Center in New York.

The following year, Rivera started work on the infamous mural known as “Man At the Crossroads.” The painting was to symbolize industrial, political and scientific possibilities. Things were fine until Rivera included a May Day march of workers with Russian leader Vladmir Lenin leading the way.

Rockefeller ordered Lenin's head removed from the painting, but Rivera's assistants threatened to go on strike if that happened. The Mexican painter offered to add the head of a great American leader like Lincoln to the painting if they could keep Lenin's head. Rockefeller declined. When the two could not reach an agreement, the American philanthropist and future politician ordered Rivera's uncompleted mural to be destroyed.

Only black and white photos of the incomplete mural exist.

2The Michael Jackson Auditorium

By day, 11-year old Michael Jackson was a normal 6th grade student at the Gardner Street Elementary School. The rest of the time, he was taking over the world with hit after hit as the lead singer for the Jackson Five.

In 1989, with the popularity of his solo career in full swing, the school named its auditorium “The Michael Jackson Auditorium” with the King of Pop present for the ceremony. Jackson – proud of his grade school alma mater – even paid for the school's music teacher's salary, planted rose bushes near the playground and signed the wall of his old classroom.

In 2003, as Jackson faced a child molestation scandal, the school covered up his name above the entrance to the auditorium.

In 2010, a year after Jackson's death (and with the help of a public petition), the school removed the boards, and allowed Michael Jackson's name to show once again.

3Grand Valley State University's Pendulum

Often, when something becomes popular it paves the way for a slew of parodies. The pendulum art piece at Grand Valley State University provided the perfect prop to parody Miley Cyrus' “Wrecking Ball” video.

One too many naked students riding the pendulum forced the school to remove the big ball and put it into storage.

It was discovered after the removal of the ball that the cable holding the ball was “indeed fraying.”

4Justin Bieber Wax Figure

In what is seemingly a case of art imitating life, a wax statue of pop sensation Justin Bieber was removed from the world-famous Madame Tussauds due to inappropriate behavior.

The wax figure of Bieber has been damaged over the years and “no longer does justice either to the star or to the attraction.” The statue still has his pre-teen bowl cut and was ultimately removed from the Times Square location due to “an excessive amount of groping, fondling and grabbing” by excited fans.

Said the general manager of the museum, “This is disappointing, but hopefully we can welcome a new “grown-up” Justin back to the attraction in the near future.”

5Verona's Juliet Statue

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is one of the great, tragic love stories of all time. In Verona, Italy, it has become a custom for tourists seeking luck in love to rub the breasts of a statue of Juliet.

It seems like there are a lot of people out there seeking luck! The bronze statue's right breast and arm ended up with excessive wear. It was removed and sent to Museum Castelvecchio where it will be restored and displayed.

A replica is to stand in its place in the near future. It seems like everybody wins in this situation with an extra set of breasts to rub for good luck!

6Charlie Chaplin's Statue

In 1952, during the height of McCarthyism, screen legend Charlie Chaplin left for his home country of England. Once out of the U.S., he was notified that his reentry permit had been revoked due to “public charges” associating the actor with Communism.

In order to return to the States, Chaplin would have to appear at a hearing to prove his moral worth. The actor refused saying he had been “the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who…created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted.”

The government ruling was interpreted by many as a poor excuse to bar Chaplin from the U.S. for political reasons. He spent the remainder of his days living in Switzerland.

By 1972, times had changed and Mr. Chaplin had been invited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive a special Oscar. He was also awarded a star on Hollywood's iconic Walk of Fame.

The morning of his arrival, a statue of Chaplin was unveiled at the Hollywood Visitor's Information Center. As quickly as it was revealed to the public, bomb threats and complaints forced the statue to be moved at the nearby Artisan's Patio at 6727 Hollywood.

Due to continuing threats, Chaplin did not attend the Walk of Fame ceremony.
However, that night Charlie Chaplin collected his honorary Oscar and received the longest standing ovation in the Academy Awards' history.

7Penn State's Coach Joe Paterno Statue

Coach Joe Paterno was a legend at Penn State. As head coach of the Penn State Lions, he was one of the most successful in college football history.

His reputation was ruined, however, when an investigative report found Paterno and other top Penn State administrators buried child sex abuse claims against Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky was charged with molesting eight boys between 1994-2009. Paterno was ousted by Penn State's board of trustees, before succumbing to lung cancer in 2012.

The statue of Joe Paterno that once stood proudly outside of Beaver Stadium honoring the disgraced coach became a rallying point for students and alumni who opposed the coach's firing until it was brought down in 2012.

Soon after the statue's demise, Paterno's family issued a statement saying that the statue's removal "does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky's horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State community."

8Dorje Shugden Statue

Tashi Tsering, a Buddhist and follower of the Dalai Lama, was inspired to destroy a statue of the deity Shugden after His Holiness publicly criticized Shugden worship as “divisive and sectarian.”

Tsering joined together with at least eight monks in destroying the statue. The monks were detained and released a few years later, but the 28-year old Tibetan stabbed himself to death to avoid arrest by Chinese authorities.

The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India and became a symbol for the Tibetan struggle for freedom. He travels the world lecturing and has occasionally been met by Shugden supporters protesting outside of buildings where he speaks.

9Reidsville Confederate Veterans Monument

The scene: Reidsville, North Carolina. In the early morning hours of May 23, 2011, Mark Anthony Vincent dozed off and slammed his Chevy automobile right into a 101-year old Confederate veteran's monument in the middle of a roundabout in the center of town.

The marble statue of the solider broke into at least 10 pieces and while the destruction of the statue may not have been intentional, the reconstruction of the landmark was certainly controversial. The statues owners, The United Daughters of the Confederacy, collected over $100,000 in insurance money to fix the base of the statue and wanted to have it moved to a Confederate cemetery outside of town. However, The Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted to rebuild the statue and keep it right where it was.

City officials sided with the Daughters of the Confederacy and felt that it would “send a wrong message to put it back up” in its old location. In 2013, the newly built statue was erected in the cemetery outside of town.

Like any controversy, there are conspiracy theories. Some believe that Vincent, an African American man, intentionally drove his van into the monument even though it almost killed him and wrecked his van.

What was that quote that Lincoln said? “You can please some of the people some of the time…”

10The Tilted Arc

In 1981, artist Richard Serra was commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration to install his sculpture The Tilted Arc in the Federal Plaza in New York City.

Serra's wall was a 12-foot high, 120-foot long rusted steel wall that divided the space of the Federal Plaza in half. When it was erected, people were divided – was it a sculpture or just a rusty wall that obstructed government workers who worked at the Federal Building?

Opposing sides duked it out in court with Serra proclaiming, “This newly created concave volume has a silent amplitude which magnifies your awareness of yourself and the sculptural field of the space.” Federal Plaza workers, on the other hand, said the piece “attracted graffiti, rats, and terrorists who might use it as a blasting wall for bombs.”

Guess which side won? In March 1989, after Serra's appeal of the ruling failed, Federal workers cut the Tilted Arc into pieces and carted the pieces off to a scrapyard.