Last fall, the Guggenheim made quite the symbolic gesture of its own. As reported in the Washington Post, the White House asked the museum to lend it an 1888 canvas by Vincent van Gogh in which a man and his dog trudge through a snow-covered, vibrant landscape. A smarmy reply from the Guggenheim explained to the White House’s Office of the Curator that “Landscape with Snow” was unavailable… Instead, the museum offered a work of conceptual art by Maurizio Cattelan, a functioning toilet made from solid, 18-carat gold that had been installed at the museum during the prior year. “The work beautifully channels the history of twentieth-century avant-garde art by referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal of 1917,” the email explained. It did not mention the title of the 2016 piece, which is “America.”
When our self-imagined betters speak, it often pays to consider the psychology in play. In the case above, the Guggenheim’s artistic director, Nancy Spector, was prepared to publicly insult not only the First Lady but also, more importantly, everyone who voted for the current incumbent of the White House – half of the nation that the Guggenheim supposedly serves - in order to signal her own political edginess. As Franklin notes, one wonders whether Ms Spector believes that her display of disdain will help the wider cause of arts funding or encourage the kind of broader public interest that such organisations claim to want.
Perhaps she was too busy admiring herself to consider such details.