In 1917, Marcel Duchamp flipped a urinal on its back, signed it with a pseudonym, and called it art. Or perhaps a collaborator of his did, stories differ. The Society of Independent Artists declined to display the piece in their annual exhibition, which may have been Duchamp’s purpose in the first place, and the story became the archetype of the Dada movement, which was all about anti-art art and anti-rational reason.
Fountain, as the “artwork” was titled, has had many homages and imitators and references over the past century, and a replica of the missing original has toured through several art museums. Additionally, the replica has had countless “artists” try to add to it… by using it as the urinal is intended. More than a few have succeeded.
Added security has made it difficult to make that kind of contribution anymore, but for those who want to honor the Dadaist spirit, a new homage is coming to New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. Maurizio Cattelan’s installation piece is not out in the galleries with a please-don’t-touch-the-exhibit placard. It’s in one of the museum’s public restrooms.
It’s a fully functional, solid gold toilet. Plumbed in and everything. Stall door and toilet paper included.
It’s called America.
Cattelan, who is described as ‘cheeky’ by the Guggenheim’s meet-the-artist piece, says that the title came after the work. It could be a reference to the unnecessary opulence that is often part of the so-called American Dream, or also a comment on the increasing cost of simple living in a country that guarantees a full-time wage will be enough to pay rent. Cattelan says the particular meaning is up to the viewer, not him.
America was installed on the fourth floor restroom of the museum on September 15th and will remain there as long as is practical… as practical as a solid gold crapper can be, anyway.