Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Memo to Wade Kavanaugh and Ste... | Dear Racist Idiots »

Friday, October 17, 2008

What’s the Scariest Work of Art Ever?

posted by on October 17 at 11:43 AM

What Schmader posted this morning—Rolling Stone’s investigation into how the GOP has already stolen the election—has me even more scared about this election than I was before.

In the name of Scared, then, I am inaugurating a contest for scariest work of art. They’re hard to think of, actually—you’ve got “The Scream” and maybe some Balthus but otherwise I mostly draw a blank. What is a work of art that actually scared you when you saw it??

Here’s my top pick: Bruce Nauman’s Pulling Mouth video from 1969, in which he pulls on his mouth and flashes his teeth in horrible ways for minutes on end.

What’s yours?


RSS icon Comments


Eminem's "Kim."

Posted by David Schmader | October 17, 2008 11:45 AM


Posted by CWM | October 17, 2008 11:46 AM

Charles Ray's "Family Romance"

Posted by levide | October 17, 2008 11:48 AM

"Aqualung" by Jethro Tull used to scare the crap outta me!

Posted by Explorer | October 17, 2008 11:52 AM

Lindy West's eye.

Posted by Scaredy | October 17, 2008 11:52 AM

"Saturn devouring his son" by Goya.

Posted by Ariel | October 17, 2008 11:54 AM

What about Albright?

Posted by Jeffrey in Chicago | October 17, 2008 11:55 AM

Salvador Dali did a bunch of scary stuff. "Baby Map of the World" is just one example.

Posted by Betsy Ross | October 17, 2008 11:55 AM

I am terrified of the Frederick Church painting of Niagara Falls where you're really close and you can't see any land. It makes me feel like I'm in a ferris wheel stuck over it, and I kind of start to hyperventilate just thinking about it.

Posted by bronkitis | October 17, 2008 11:56 AM
Posted by losboats | October 17, 2008 11:58 AM

Bosch is an obvious addition.

Also, some Paik installations creep me out.

Posted by John Bailo | October 17, 2008 11:58 AM

It's not art, but you want scary? Read this clear, dry, prescient elucidation of the coming economic apocalypse:

Posted by David B. | October 17, 2008 11:59 AM

Toss up between J-P Witkin and Weegee, although I don't have specific pieces for either.

Of course, if you allow for film, then that opens a lot of doors, and I guess makes the question less interesting. If we're keeping it to "art films," maybe Eraserhead?

Oh, wait, no . . . I forgot about that sculpture of Britney Spears giving birth. There we go.

Posted by Levislade | October 17, 2008 11:59 AM

The eyeball-razor scene in Un chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel. That shit still turns my stomach thinking about it.

Posted by S-Lo | October 17, 2008 12:02 PM
Posted by sam | October 17, 2008 12:03 PM

Goya's "Saturn Devouring his Children" didn't exactly scare me on first looking at it, but since then, the giant figure looming over the horizon, blood, smeared on hands and mouth, has been a recurrent figure in my nightmares. For like twenty years now, maybe more.

Posted by mike | October 17, 2008 12:07 PM

@16. Oh yeah. And that wild, urgent, disconnected look in Saturn's wide eyes. Shudder.

Posted by Ariel | October 17, 2008 12:09 PM

I got most of my sex education from Hieronymus Bosch.

Posted by Ariel | October 17, 2008 12:10 PM

Image Google: Joel Peter Witkin. His photographs are beautiful but give me nightmares.

Posted by donna | October 17, 2008 12:11 PM

The greatest art-related alarm I have felt as an adult was the draping of statues, "The Spirit of Justice" and "The Majesty of Law" in the lobby of the Dept. of Justice. Supposedly John Ashcroft didn't like being seen in proximity with half-nudes, while in reality he couldn't face the embodiment of our judicial system while desecrating it.

Posted by inkweary | October 17, 2008 12:11 PM
Posted by paulus | October 17, 2008 12:12 PM

I've always been both somewhat terrified by and slightly enamored with Gericault's Raft of the Medusa.

Posted by ben | October 17, 2008 12:13 PM
Posted by Afreet | October 17, 2008 12:16 PM

That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door) by Ivan Albright.

Runner up: Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.

Posted by Joe M | October 17, 2008 12:18 PM

some of peter joel witkin's photgraphs are pretty scary
but i'm in love with them nonetheless

i was going to add a link to an example, but 2 images of nudey shemales came up (these are not the scary ones i was referencing)and i'm at work. Whooooops

Posted by Amy | October 17, 2008 12:21 PM

velvet water

Posted by erik | October 17, 2008 12:24 PM

David Firth's "Hell"

Posted by Bees | October 17, 2008 12:30 PM

doesnt reaaly count, but i once had a dream after a day at the moma that i encountered a giant glass cube in an unspecified museum. it was filled with rays of light from several sun roofs above it, and for some reason i was completely terrified.

other than that i'll have to go with balthus and the ed kienholz installation "still live"

Posted by zan e | October 17, 2008 12:32 PM

Hands down: anything by Thomas Kinkade. Especially his post 9/11 crap.

Posted by catnextdoor | October 17, 2008 12:34 PM

Francis Bacon really got me as a young man and this piece in particular:

Posted by Steven Miller | October 17, 2008 12:37 PM
Posted by Abe | October 17, 2008 12:38 PM

Kincade's got a new series of NASCAR paintings. I saw them advertised on TV the other day. His work is terrifying, but these were beyond belief. I had to watch from behind the sofa.

Posted by Fnarf | October 17, 2008 12:39 PM

Jen I just watched that video by Bruce last night.

Joel Peter Witkins Mother and Child.
Otto Dix's etchings from the war.
The razor slicing the eyeball in Un Chein Andalou is pretty powerful as well.

Posted by Betty X | October 17, 2008 12:40 PM

Anything by Francis Bacon is terrifying. Also, The Nightmare by John Henry Fuselli is pretty scary.

Posted by CQ | October 17, 2008 12:40 PM

I remember going to the wax museum in Victoria as a kid, and being mega scared by the chamber of horrors. Especially the guy with the meat hook through his pelvis. Does that count as art?

Posted by ray | October 17, 2008 12:41 PM
Posted by Cookie W. Monster | October 17, 2008 12:50 PM

Just about anything by Joel Peter Witkins.

Posted by iamkatia | October 17, 2008 12:50 PM
Posted by stella | October 17, 2008 12:52 PM

The 'who's in the basement' scene from Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | October 17, 2008 1:09 PM

I saw Bruegel's Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) when I was in Antwerp and I was so freaked being alone in a room with it that I bought the poster so I could look at it later. Eighteen years later it is still under my bed.

Posted by beatgrl | October 17, 2008 1:11 PM

Bruce Nauman's Clown Torture video installation piece. First you've got the creepy clowns in distress (esp. one in a restroom stall), then you've got a clown going insane by saying this over and over: "Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off; who was left? Repeat. Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence..."
Language itself can make you crazy if you don't watch out...

Posted by Ken | October 17, 2008 1:23 PM

Anything Francis Bacon

Posted by AB | October 17, 2008 1:26 PM

"the Visitation". Sculpture I saw about 9 years ago in the outdoor sculpture gallery of either the National Gallery of Art or the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Hands down when it comes to visual art.

Posted by fARTing | October 17, 2008 2:22 PM
Posted by Bub | October 17, 2008 2:36 PM

Ivan Albright -- Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida

I freaked my shit when I saw that at the Art Institute of Chicago...

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | October 17, 2008 2:55 PM

I saw a show of Jake and Dinos Chapman's work that was so compelling, yet so nasty and violent, that it made me ill. The coup de grace was the sculpture "Insult to Injury" that featured three lifesized dismembered corpses in perfect detail, hanging from a tree, in a heightened state of decay, covered with snakes, rats and maggots. I thought I was going to lose it. I had to leave the museum and sit still for an hour just to get my balance back. Powerful stuff and absolutely horrifying.

Posted by Gurldoggie | October 17, 2008 3:01 PM

In second place, anything by Billy Joel.

Posted by Gurldoggie | October 17, 2008 3:03 PM

Gimme Shelter makes me very scurred.

Posted by max solomon | October 17, 2008 3:27 PM

check out roy lichtenstein's "la sortie", creepy in a david lynchian cartoonish way.

but closer to the visceral, scary factor are any of a number of works by local surrealist rick simpson whose computer-generated pieces can be found at

Posted by cineaste | October 17, 2008 3:29 PM

odd nerdrum's painting of a woman taking a shit.

Posted by grace | October 17, 2008 6:06 PM

the razor cuts eye scene in the salvador dali-bunuel movie, 80 years old and still way more scary than SAW

Posted by scared for life | October 18, 2008 2:27 AM

James Lee Byars, The Ghost of James Lee Byars.
So scary I had to hold my breath and run through fast.

Posted by Betsey | October 21, 2008 4:39 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.