Canada's contribution to the world of blood-and-guts culture has taken his anti-art message on the road.This time, bad boy Istvan Kantor, best known as the man who was banned from the National Gallery of Canada in the 1990s for tossing a vial of his own blood on the walls, has turned up in Berlin where he sprayed more of his bodily fluids at a statue of Michael Jackson yesterday.
Kantor made headlines last spring when he won the Governor-General's Award for Visual and Media Arts for his videos, performance art and installations. The jury declared the 55-year-old Kantor a "no-holds-barred neo-Dada artist." At the time, the award was greeted with outrage.
The artist is also known for vomiting primary colours on famous paintings -- a practice he refers to as "ur-transgression," and performance pieces involving burning clothes irons. His feature-length film, which aired in May, depicted a couple in bondage gear and masks humping to the tune of screeching techno sound and writhing about in a pile of blood (or worse). Whatever you call it, The Globe's art critic, Sarah Milroy, wrote: "It's nasty."
"I am protesting against the loss of independence in art," Kantor is reported to have cried after attempting to fling blood on the golden-coloured statue of Michael Jackson and his monkey Bubbles.
Right now, the Hungarian-born performance artist, who currently lives in Berlin, may be cooling his heels in a German jail. Security guards hustled Kantor out of the museum and police booked him for disturbing the peace and property damage, although reports say that the statue by American sculptor Paul McCarthy was not hit in Kantor's bloody attack.
The statue is part of a collection of 2,500 contemporary works belonging to Friedrich Christian Flick on display at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum. The exhibition is at least as controversial in Berlin as Kantor's own body of work is here. Many oppose the exhibition on the grounds that Flick is heir to a Nazi-era arms supplier.
Also known as Monty Cantsin, Kantor was banned from the Art Gallery of Ontario for vomiting on a painting in 1996. Six months later he repeated the performance at New York's Museum of Modern Art. At the time he said he was protesting the "oppressively trite and painfully banal" nature of the works in question -- Raoul Dufy's Harbour at le Havre and Piet Mondrian's Composition in Red, White and Blue, respectively.
The artist does have his defenders, however. Columnist Russell Smith lauded Kantor's Governor-General's Award, describing the artist's world as "both frightening and humorously parodic."
The New York Times called the award a "sign that the establishment may be catching up with the subvertainment of Canada's leading shock artist," even though at the time, Kantor was escorted to the podium at Ottawa's National Gallery by several security guards.
Kantor, who moved to Montreal in 1977 to escape the oppressiveness of Communism in his native Hungary, told the Times that returning to the National Gallery, the scene of his earlier banishment, was "a revenge for me. My work was always anti-establishment, anti-art art, anti-authoritarian and now, suddenly, I have been recognized by the same people who at certain times put me in jail."