Shit just got real last week when the Guggenheim Museum in New York presented its newest artwork: a golden toilet made by the art world’s enfant terrible, Maurizio Cattelan. Didn’t conceptual art’s Godfather, Marcel Duchamp already place a toilet in a museum? Indeed, but Cattelan takes the concept even further. This time it’s no ready-made object placed on a pedestal with do not touch signs, angry looking guards watching the object like hawks and extensive essays accompanying the piece. No, Cattelan’s toilet is just… well, a toilet. But made from pure gold.
The work is called America, an 18 carat golden loo, is not placed inside the gallery alongside the other artworks, but instead simply replaces one of the public toilets on the fifth floor of the Guggenheim. Visitors are invited to use the golden bathroom, just as they would use any other one.
Maurizio Cattelan. America. 2016.
It came as a big surprise to the art world that Cattelan created a new work of art, considering that he announced his retirement as an artist back in 2011. Then, his works were being sold as the most expensive artworks in the world and he reached a peak in his career. The artist claimed that he felt creatively fatigued and that he was done with an art world that only cared about money. But now Cattelan, still only 55 years old, seems to be retired from his retirement and this artwork marks his resurrection.
Is it a coincidence that Cattelan's work is directly reminiscent of Duchamp’s Fountain (1917)? Of course not. It has been 99 years since Duchamp created his ground-breaking artwork. By placing a normal everyday object, a urinal in his case, into a museum space he pushed against the boundaries of the art institution, making everyday objects into art. Now, Cattelan is the one pushing. Same style, new barrier. However, instead of placing a daily object in a museum, he replaces a utilitarian item with an artwork, inviting visitors to actually make us of it.
Marcel Duchamp. Fountain. 1917.
By doing so he creates a very intimate experience with a work of art. People can go into the cubicle, have a moment for themselves and be in very close proximity with an actual art piece. This experience can trigger a passion for art… or a nice wee at least. Being so close to art is what Cattelan calls, “unprecedented access to something of unquestionable value.” In a museum, visitors aren’t allowed to touch anything, but this artwork can be touched, used and even peed on.
Cattelan is in this way sarcastically referring to the art market and its skyrocketing prices as a result of 21st century capitalism. The loo also refers to the ‘american dream’, opportunities for everyone, in which art and gold are no longer for the lucky few. Everyone has to go to the toilet, so anyone can wee on Cattelan’s creation. The artwork perfectly epitomises the Public House of Art’s message that art is for the many, even if the message can be a bit disruptive.
Piero Manzoni. Artist's Shit. 1961.
Bearing this in mind, it seems very likely that Cattelan has also been inspired by Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit (1961), a project in which Manzoni created 90 cans, each containing 30 grams of his own feces. This work also mocks the art world with its high-numbered price tags on anything, even artists’ bodily fluids. Initially the works were each sold for 37 dollars in 1961. But the art market took control, just as Manzoni had suspected, and some editions even reached between 100.000-200.000 dollars in the last ten years at auction. Art for the many that became a luxury for the lucky few.
With his newest creation, Cattelan thus made art even more available to everyone. Just as Duchamp and Manzoni, Cattelan knows how to playfully mock the art world with an artwork that doesn’t only make a statement, but also looks super cool. With America, Cattelan seems to be back in business. And with his artwork, he is inviting visitors to do their business. Undo your pants, have a seat and enjoy.
Written by Amsterdam-based Freelance Writer, Rosanne Schipper for The Public House of Art