Is this the most offensive artwork ever made?

A Swedish gallery is defending the exhibition a painting made from stolen ashes of Holocaust victims.

New Statesman
A pile of human bones and skulls is seen in 1944 at the Nazi concentration camp of Majdanek. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Modern art, its safe to say, has never been shy of controversy. In fact, from the early Impressionists to Damien Hirst, it often thrives on public outcry.  Many of the most renowned artworks of recent years have embraced the philosophy that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, whether that involves making art out of the scatological (Chris Ofili), pornographic (Jeff Koons) or iconoclastic (Andres Serrano).

However, such high-profile examples have the unfortunate side-effect of causing mediocre artists to confuse a capacity to offend with a positive artistic reaction.

Take Carl Michael von Hausswolff as an example - a Swedish artist who has seemingly set himself the challenge to be as gratuitously offensive as history permits. He has just exhibited a new painting in a gallery in Lund, created by the ashes of holocaust victims stolen from a former Nazi concentration camp.

The ashes, which he took from a Polish museum and former camp, were stolen in 1989. Hausswolf claims they were mixed with water and used to paint a series of grey streaks in his small painting.

His actions have, predictably, ignited widespread condemnation. The Majdanek camp from which Hausswolf claims he took the ashes has called it an ‘unimaginably barbaric act’. Salomon Schulman, a key figure in Sweden’s Jewish community, described it as ‘repulsive in the extreme’, later writing in a local newspaper that he was ‘sickened’ by an act which could have involved the ashes from some of his relatives.

The art gallery that displayed the piece are defending their decision. Martin Bryder, the owner of the Lund gallery, told the Polish News Agency:

"Please come to the gallery, see the painting and judge for yourselves whether it's controversial".

Bryder and Hausswolf’s thought processes in producing and hanging the painting are almost more baffling then offensive – reminiscent of the infamous incident in 2009 when five men stole the ‘Arbeit Mach Frei’ sign above the Auschwitz entrance.

Their actions barely warrant debating. Much like Wlodzimierz Umaniec (a.k.a. Vladimir Umanets) who recently defaced a priceless Rothko masterpiece in the Tate, ostensibly in artistic protest, these men prove once again that there  is no greater disguise for a lack of talent than a cloak of controversy.

Shock tactics in art are no more than the last refuge for those without originality or opinion. Neither provocative, intellectual or remotely creative, he is one thing only - myopically obnoxious and not deserving of the extra publicity that even this article has given him.