Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Final Solution: A Fountain for The White House?

Duchamp's "Fountain" (1917)
The White House requested van Gogh’s “Landscape With Snow” from the Guggenheim and was offered a toilet instead, "Museum Told White House: No Van Gogh, but Here’s a Gold Toilet," NYT, 1/25/18). According to The Times (relying on reporting originally done by The Washington Post), Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim’s curator, “offered up what one might call ‘a participatory sculpture’: a fully functional solid 18-karat-gold copy of a Kohler toiled titled ‘America’ that more than 100,000 people had already used in a museum restroom.” Other candidates could also have been Duchamp’s “Fountain,” which is actually a urinal, Andre Serrano’s controversial “Piss Christ” or Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary," in which elephant dung graces a Black Madonna. A lot of people might have regarded the Guggenheim’s response as a slight, but let’s face facts. It would be very hard to urinate or even defecate on a Van Gogh painting. Tokyo has a museum of toilets which also might have been brought into the act. But the truth is that with a populist president who regularly entertains a constituency that takes umbrage at the notion of talent and genius (only look at the treatment of scientists who have spoken out about the dangers of global warning), not to speak of NATO and America’s European allies, who knows how the work done by a great l9th century French artist would fare. The Guggenheim has recently gotten itself into trouble by backing down in the face of animal activists who protested the exhibit of  controversial work by Chinese artists. But here they vindicated themselves from charges of lacking backbone, by telling the President where to go.

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