As values have changed with modern and postmodern thought, artists have set to create more shocking and confronting work to distinguish themselves from the rest. Marcel Duchamp was perhaps the first to push the boundaries with his Fountain, a urinal in an art gallery, which was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th Century by 500 artists and forced his audience to think for themselves. Many artists have followed Duchamp, but have had to go to more and more extreme measures to get noticed, hence Chris Burden's Shoot and so on. If Xiao Yu had have put his dead female fetus head in an artwork forty years ago he would have been arrested immediately. However, it would be silly to suggest that all artists from modernism onward, seek only to shock or disgust their audience. Some, such as Kiki Smith, seek to get people to re-evaluate their stance with the natural world, and whether or not we are doing enough to look after it.
Marcel Duchamp's Fountain in 1917, ( a urinal placed in a gallery at 33 West 57th Street) was set to shock the audience into thinking for itself for once. Duchamp had arrived in America in 1915, and since April 1917, the Government had been pumping out their pro-war, anti-German propaganda. Seeing a fountain in an art gallery was unusual and it got people out of the cycle of sponging whatever the authorities through the newspapers told them. It made people ask why? Moreover, Duchamp challenged the society to re-evaluate what art is, through his work and speech, 'It is necessary to arrive at selecting an object with the idea of not being impressed by this object on the basis of enjoyment of any order. However, it is difficult to select an object that absolutely does not interest you, not only on the day on which you select it, and which does not have any chance of becoming attractive or beautiful and which is neither pleasant to look at nor particularly ugly.' Here we see that Duchamp does not see art as a matter of beauty, which the majority at the time did. He then goes on to say, 'All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone.. the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.' Whereas prior to Duchamp art was about showing the audience something beautiful for them to enjoy, Duchamp here says, you, the spectator, are a part of this. Duchamp goes even deeper saying that, ' Art is an outlet toward regions which are not ruled by time and space.'
Seedbed by Vito Acconci (January 15-29 1971) saw Acconci lay hidden underneath a gallery-wide ramp installed at the Sonnabend Gallery, masturbating while vocalizing into a loudspeaker his fantasies about the visitors walking above him on the ramp. One motivation behind Seedbed was to involve the public in the work's production by creating a situation of reciprocal interchange between artist and viewer. This was right in the middle of the sexual revolution with manuals coming out everywhere, sexual philosophers everpresent as well as the rise of the hippy and the gay rights movement. Moreover, censorship on filmic and pornographic materials was loosening up and so while many were outraged by this objectification of one would assume women, many were more happy to accept this as art.
In 2008, in an interview with Brian Sherwin for Myartspace, Vito discussed Seedbed at length. Vito discussed the title Seedbed and the connection it had to the performance, stating, "I knew what my goal had to be: I had to produce seed, the space I was in should become a bed of seed, a field of seed – in order to produce seed, I had to masturbate – in order to masturbate, I had to excite myself." The fact that Acconci was creating seed for art, rather than being seedy meant that one people saw it as more 'artistic', and two, less criminal and immoral...