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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Frankly, that was plain rude

Don’t complain about the crassness of our president when you behave just as badly.

America, 2016, by Maurizio Cattelan, installed in a restroom at the Guggenheim.
The interesting thing wasn’t that someone sent me this story about the Guggenheim’s refusal to loan the Trumps a painting for the White House. The interesting thing was how many people sent it to me. Clearly it hit a nerve.

In brief, the Trumps requested the loan of Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 Landscape with Snow for use in their private living quarters. Curator Nancy Spector refused the loan because the painting has just come off tour. Had she left it at that, nobody would have raised an eyebrow.

But as a New York intellectual, Spector hates Donald Trump. She’s made no secret of it, using social media to trumpet her opinions. She has every right to do that.

La Nona Ora, by Maurizio Cattelan (1999), wax, clothing, polyester resin with metallic powder, volcanic rock, carpet, glass, sold at Christie’s for $886,000.
But it was sophomoric and rude to offer the Trumps a gold toilet on behalf of the Guggenheim. (You can read her letter here.)

Why should major museums loan artwork for a politician’s private residence in the first place? Since the Johnson administration, presidents have been borrowing important works from major American museums. “It might be a friend, it might be a decorator ... but it was someone designated by the president and first lady to come to the National Gallery of Art and choose work,” curator Mark Rosenthal told NPR. “It's very much [like] a kid in a candy store.” A list of the 47 pieces borrowed by the Obamas can be read here.

America, the toilet, is the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan and was installed for the past year in a public restroom on the Guggenheim’s fifth floor, intended for the use of visitors. Cattelan’s schtick is poking fun at the wealthy and powerful. His La Nona Ora (1999) shows Pope John Paul being struck down by a meteor. L.O.V.E. (2010) is a crippled hand giving the finger to the Milan stock exchange. This is the kind of thing some people think of as high-concept pranking. Apparently, they’ve never had teenaged sons.

The Ballad of Trotsky, 1996, by Maurizio Cattelan, sold in 2004 for $2.1 million.
America took $1 million in gold to create. What kind of artist can get his hands on that much gold? Only a wealthy one, or one with rich and adoring friends.

I usually ignore this stuff. I don’t admire it, any more than Nancy Spector admires what I do. But I believe in courtesy and decorum as the basis of a civilized society. Rudeness has become so unremarkable that even ladies who lunch feel free to do it. Lewd and crude commentary is the order of our day. But even those of us who did not support Trump in 2016 ought to respect the office of the Presidency and the White House.

Landscape with Snow, 1888, Vincent van Gogh. President Trump has been accused of having bad taste in art, but I too prefer this over Cattelan's toilet.
Nancy Spector suffers from Groupthink, which means, sadly, that her snarkiness is going to be applauded, not condemned, in her insular little world. That doesn’t mean it will play in Peoria. While Spector’s gesture was meant as a slap at Trump, it’s felt by the people he represents.

Ironically, the crass and coarse President rose above the fray and did not deign to comment.

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