People are talking about Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's 18-karat gold toilet installation at the Guggenheim.
Cattelan has titled it, "America" and it'll be an actual, working toilet available for use in one of the museum's public restrooms. Needless to say, the installation is sopping wet with metaphors about American society, the economy, the art market and more.
I'm actually chatting with you about this because an artist emailed me about it and was somewhat peeved by the whole thing.
"THIS is art?" the pissed off artist asked me. "Although I have respect for all kinds of art, this does push me a bit. Like why is it called art? ... And the worst part about it ... it gets written up."
Ironically, this artist didn't realize that their very email to me was a write up of sorts. Also, although this artist is obviously alive and working today, this person doesn't identify as a "contemporary" artist. This is largely due to disapproval over things like art installations involving gold-plated toilets found in museum restrooms.
But here's the thing ...
I think Cattelan's idea is brilliant. I love it. Is it art? Absolutely. Is it traditional art? No. That's the BIG difference.
If it's created and curated by an artist for the purpose of exhibition and provoking dialogue, then of course it's art. No, it's not a landscape painting or a lovely sculptural work, but it IS art and it's worthy of display, documentation and discourse.
In order for art to truly do its job, it must push its own boundaries. It also must push our boundaries and our definition of what art is supposed to be. Art must invent and then reinvent itself. If artists don't do this, then who will? Your doctor? Your cable guy? Your accountant? They busy doing their own things.
No one disputes whether still life painting is art, but they'll certainly question the worthiness and value of things like a gold-plated toilet as an art installation. This is what happens when we don't think "outside the box."
Let's crush the box ... or better yet, let's behave as if it doesn't exist. As New York Artist Apryl Miller says, "There is no box."
Many if not most of us are traditionalists. This is how we see art. But if we want to learn and grow, we must also embrace things like the gold-plated toilet. It's an opportunity to stretch ourselves. Art gives us so many opportunities to take the sticks out of our asses, relax and learn.
To me, this feels like a no-brainer. No one is saying that you have to like it or even relate to it. Just open your mind to something new.
In addition, no one is saying that Cattelan is a great craftsman, but he does have a great sense of irony, execution, timing and humor, all of which are sorely needed in today's art world. Personally, I believe this is also Cattelan's way of telling us Americans to pull the sticks out of our asses and flush them down the toilet.
In other words, take a chill pill. It's only art. Or is it?