Museums all over the world have recently found themselves put on the defensive by critics who demanded that they justify the presence in their collections of works of art that were regarded, for a variety of reasons, as provocative. The media have brought these challenges to the attention of the public, and the institutions’ responses have not always been even tempered and apt to effectively rebut the accusations.
The Kunstmuseum Basel, too, has many objects that, depending on a viewer’s vantage point, may be seen as controversial. This presentation of art from our collection showcases works, from Old-Master treasures to contemporary art, that prompted critical discussion when they were made or when they were acquired, that still rub some people the wrong way—or have started doing so only now.
The selection reflects important debates over art and its ability to provoke. Rather than narrowly focusing on the—genuine or fabricated—scandals around individual works or artists, we see today’s sometimes vitriolic arguments over art as an opportunity to reconsider well-known as well as less familiar works from a different angle and enrich their discussion with new facets.