Unless you are a contemporary art fan, you may not have been aware that there is a fully functioning 18-karat golden toilet called “America” on the fifth floor of the Guggenheim museum in New York City. (Wow, I never thought I would type that string of words in my life).
But it is, in fact true. The ongoing exhibit has attracted hundreds of thousands of art lovers to experience what the Guggenheim raves as a reminder “of the inescapable physical realities of our shared humanity”.
In an interview with artist and creator of “America” Maurizio Cattelan, Caitlin Dover, makes connections to this toilet with the current political environment of the United States. Cattelan calls this piece “one-percent art for the ninety-nine percent”. This piece is meant to be used by all. It is placed in an institution where so often patrons are told not to touch but just observe. Here, museum goers are not only encouraged to touch but experience privately.
Seated (no pun intended) in the legacy of Duchamp’s Fountain, which marks its 100th anniversary next year, it is quite interesting to compare the environments that each were curated. Duchamp piece shocked the United States as it was in direct conversation with questions regarding what is art and who get’s to decide what is or is not art. Catalan’s piece is born similarly at a time when social media and platforms such as Instagram and YouTube are now including millions into the categories of photographer, filmmaker, etc. It is telling that once again, American’s are flocking to view toilets as a means of artistic connection as such a simple item can allow individuals to take a closer look at the bureaucratic nature of art in 2016.
It is also no mistake that both Duchamp and Cattelan are not American born artists. Both their comments on art and the Western world shows a progression in the willingness for American’s to take a look inward from foreign eyes. So often, American pride themselves as being “flawed but aware” however it has taken a golden crested toilet by an Italian artist to hold this particular mirror up for many.
Whether is it in fact a commentary on the socio-economic disparity in this country and/or a direct middle finger to Trump’s empire, I think it is important to recognize the need for pieces of art like this in modern society. The Guggenheim is no small organization but rather stands out as one of the leading institutions for modern art. We as a community should be paying attention to works like this and the responses they receive as a direct example to the kinds of piece audiences are craving.