After a delay, Maurizio Cattelan’s “America”—an 18-karat golden toilet installed in a Guggenheim Museum bathroom—will finally open to the public tomorrow. Yes, it is functional. Call it toilet humor.
Cattelan’s sculpture pays homage to greatest readymade ever: Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a urinal that was turned upside down and made dysfunctional. It’s Cattelan’s first work in five years, marking a return to the art world after he loudly announced his retirement in 2011. I’d like to think that it engages with a whole history of artists that involve urination in their work, a lineage that includes Andy Warhol’s “Oxidation Paintings,” David Hammons taking a whiz on Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ. But it probably doesn’t. It definitely does, however, reference Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari’s magazine Toilet Paper.
At a press preview today, people were allowed to make use of “America” for the first time. I stood in a line of four women, all of whom chickened out and left the bathroom without using it. (One pointed out at the toilet was “very Jeff Koons.”) A press representative for the museum pulled me aside and told me that, since I’m a guy, I should know that you can’t lift the lid. As I left the bathroom, two bathroom-goers wondered if that might be some kind of critique of masculinity. Ah, the art world.