Heather Mallick: Museum counters Trump's art request with royal flush
Will Donald Trump realize that the Guggenheim's offer of a golden toilet is mocking the U.S. president? Will he attempt to use the fully-functional art installation, titled 'America'? Is this real life?
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I don’t know what the Trumps were thinking when they asked the Guggenheim to lend them a Van Gogh painting for their private quarters in the White House. Clearly, Van Gogh was the only artist they could name — very very big prices, hugely famous, huuuge — but Landscape with Snow, painted in 1888, was a strange choice.
It is a bleak portrait of mid-winter fields outside Arles with rotted vegetation and patches of melting snow. A man in a black hat with his dog is trudging along the T-zone of the painting.
The late art critic Tom Lubbock suggested that such simple Van Gogh compositions represented “the division between matter and void.”
I’m wondering if Melania saw her dank, lonely path, with the trees and light in the distance, as a trek to Mar-a-Lago.
Oh, just drop it with the fairy-dust art suppositions. There’s a goodly amount of golden yellow in the painting so you know perfectly well they wanted something to match the curtains.
Instead, the Trumps were offered another gold thing, Maurizio Cattelan’s America, a 2016 interactive artwork consisting of a solid gold toilet that Guggenheim visitors are actually using. Not usually what they mean by interactive but still.
Trump is a billionaire white piece of trash who lives in an apartment fretted with golden fire, has gold-plated seatbelts and bathroom fixtures on his private plane, and replaced Obama’s red drapes in the Oval Office with bold gold. (He also replaced the brown couches with cream ones. The man is not subtle.)
Cattelan’s toilet clearly referenced Marcel Duchamp’s urinal titled “Fountain” in a 1917 art exhibition. You see a urinal, Duchamp sees a fountain. You see a gold toilet, Cattelan sees America as it is right now, and he’s not wrong in this new Gilded Age.
As Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones explained, “Art is a luxury good. Its patrons and collectors have always been the 1%, not the 99%. Understandably, artists often snap.”
Guggenheim chief curator Nancy Spector, who has long made it clear that she detests Trump, quoted Cattelan in her blog on the Trump toilet offer: “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hotdog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”
Cattelan isn’t the chattiest of artists and clearly trusts the Guggenheim to speak for him. But he is highly amused. Asked to explain the meaning of the work and why it’s right for Trump, he responded, “What’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.”
Then he told Reuters, “I don’t want to be rude. I have to go,” and he hung up. Perhaps he meant “to the toilet.” Artists are human, you know.
Golden objects are a hallmark of tyrants. Saddam Hussein had gold toilets and gold-plated toilet brushes. Muammar Gaddafi had golden guns, fly swatters and couches. I won’t even mention the competitive golden statues of whoever’s in power in Turkmenistan. Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine, had gold golf clubs and a golden paperweight shaped like a loaf of bread.
Now that last one’s interesting. For reasons that elude me, I have always been fascinated by the ersatz. I have decorative peaches made of stone, wooden mushrooms, papier-mache artichokes, and a velvet eggplant. They are not the things they profess to be. You could break a tooth.
The artist’s — and Nancy Spector’s — message to Trump is that a gold toilet isn’t ersatz. That would be the work of a more timid artist. No, this toilet functions. It’s an abuse of gold, a waste of ingots.
Abusing gold is the favourite pastime of the ultra-rich who fill the White House. Since there is always a Sonny or a Wilbur with more fantastic mansions and a bigger fleet of jets, Trump’s tacky friends keep hunting for more lucre, just as Trump does with his hotels. They help themselves to government largesse to which they are not entitled.
They’re all sitting on a gold toilet when a porcelain one would do just as well. Why would anyone do this? To make bodily functions glorious?
Trump might just accept the offer. I pity the White House minion tasked with explaining to Trump that the Guggenheim is mocking him. Trump, surrounded by his gilt drapes, won’t get it. He’ll smile and say, “Bring it to me wrapped in cloth of gold.”
“Then shall Trump sit upon the throne of his glory” (Matthew 25-31).