Yoav Sivan and The Restroom of King Francis
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 06-13-11
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Yoav Sivan is not primarily an installation artist, but rather a journalist, who recently graduated from the Columbia Journalism School and has written about politics and gay rights for the Huffington Post, The Guardian, Haaretz and Moment Magazine. But he recently decided to enter the conceptualist fray, attempting the subtle science of the Duchampian homage, with suitably mixed results:

As detailed on his website, Sivan submitted a work entitled the Restroom of King Francis to the Salon des Independants, er, rather, to the Columbia Arts Initiative's sponsored exhibition at Lincoln Center. The submission appears to have consisted of the idea to construct two rooms: one a urinal-filled men's room with a Mona Lisa hanging on the wall (perhaps mustachio'd in the fashion of L.H.O.O.Q); the other, a replica of the Louvre hall that contains the Mona Lisa, only with a replica of Duchamp's urinal hanging next to it.) The title is an allusion to Leonardo Da Vinci's principal patron, the noted humanist who sadly did not live quite long enough to witness the genesis of the flush toilet.

In his web post, Sivan emphasizes the strategic elements of an institutional art submission. He rightly compares the original staging of the R.Mutt-inscribed Fountain submission to a chess game in which the moves were carefully arranged. Furthermore, in his account of Duchamp's original proffering of the urinal, Sivan puts forward the coordinates of what he calls a "Duchamp experiment, played according to the rules, but in which a player attempts to alter the rules of evaluation that apply to the player himself."

In general I think this is a good way of putting it, and it would be a worthy task to try to identify further Duchamp games as they might exist in the world: or where in fact they could be played in the future and under what conditions. Yet I think it may be open question whether Sivan played one himself: as he noted, the Columbia Arts Initiative dutifully rejected his submission to exhibit at Lincoln Center.

Given the subject matter, Columbia's rejection could well be burnished as a credential for the work. On the other hand, what truly allowed Duchamp to execute a flanking manouvre in his particular game was the fact that he himself sat on the board of the Salon; therefore upon the "rejection" of the urinal he was able to call attention to it by resigning (and had his avant-garde friends write eloquent protests in his favor). Sivan, it could seem, has no similar recourse. And in any case, it's not quite obvious what the significance of Columbia's rejection is. Are they not radical enough? Too radical? What did they even promise to do under their own rules?

On yet another hand (now we have three hands), Sivan may have outflanked Columbia from the other side. This has to do with the intersection between space, value and virtuality, a theme which Sivan's work specifically questions. More concretely: what is at stake in having a specific artwork appear in a specific physical space? What is the value, to pick a wild example, of having an object appear at Lincoln Center, stamped with the Columbia Arts Initiative imprimatur?

(post to be continued: stay tuned)

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