Art is supposed to be serious. Right? Wrong, art has always contained fun and jokes. But what is the role of humor in the contemporary art world? The fact is that it pops up everywhere in art today. Humorous art became widespread with Dadaism and the appearance of ready-mades. Thereby irreversibly changing art forever. These artists tried to disrupt the social conventions of the intellectual, literary and artistic movements during the first world war. Marcel Duchamp’s fountain shocked the (art) world by presenting a urinal as a work of art and drawing a mustache and goatee on the Mona Lisa and writing a rude pun underneath it. The Surrealists also used humorous provocation to shake up the art world. Making work of bizarre associations and incongruous combinations of objects. Both Dadaism and Surrealism made use of fun and games in their work. Playful Childish humor as a reaction to the misery of war.
Méret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup, saucer, and spoon (Object – Le Déjeuner en fourrure / Object – The Luncheon in Fur) challenged themes of femininity. The work made after Pablo Picasso flirted with the 23-year artist in a Paris café. Commenting on the fur bracelet she was wearing. Saying that there were many things he enjoyed that were enhanced when coated in fur.
In contemporary art, satire is used to protest social or political issues. When countries censor criticism, provocation can be a way to express disagreement. World-famous Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and Yue Minjun have used irony as a device for political criticism. Ai Weiwei made a series of photographs giving the finger to famous (inter)national landmarks.
Maurizzio Cattelan did something similar in his, work L.O.V.E. (Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità /Freedom, Hate, Vengeance, Eternity). A hand with the middle finger standing up the other fingers are not folded but cut off. It was placed opposite the headquarters of the Italian stock exchange
Artists often are part of institutions they rebuke. Poor artists have to go for meals at the house of a rich collector. They might not have anything in common with the people there and possibly even strongly disagree with them politically.
Humor and art both offer an escape from reality. Playing with the codes of society. Cynicism is used for socio-political criticism. Humor thus is not making light of art. It helps us to live in defiance of the depression around us. Humor works as a defense mechanism against anger, and despair. Comedians and artists have to understand what they are talking about to critique it.
Sarah Lucas makes provocative works that often use rude visual humor. She plays with gender stereotypes with reference to the human body. From the 1992, ‘Two Fried Eggs and Kebab’, which resembled a naked female torso to stuffed pantyhose sculptures and concrete dicks. She constantly is challenging macho culture with confrontational, crude, vulgar and very honest work about sexuality and identity and taboos.
Martin Creed’s work might on first encounter appear very serious. His work is ordered and uncomplicated. An empty room with the lights going on and off at five-second intervals, a piece of blue tack stuck to a wall, a crumpled ball of paper or a video of someone being sick. To some people, he seems to embody everything that is preposterous about contemporary art. However, the work is incredibly poetic and he has a great sense of humor.
The British-Polish artist Kasia Fudakowski also uses a lot of humor in her work.
She has done a deliberately bad stand-up gig at an art fair, based on her own situation. The work involved a feminist critique of institutions and the difference between her personal expectations and those of society. Two of her greatest influences are comedian Andy Kaufman and conceptual artist Lee Lozano.