Virtual Duchamp and The Paradox of Art Spaces
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 06-26-11
Does the Avant-Garde need Lincoln Center?
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Earlier this month I wrote about the journalist Yoav Sivan, who submitted a Duchampesque art concept to the Columbia Arts Initiative exhibition at Lincoln Center: calling his work "The Restroom of King Francis," he proposed to build a replica of the Louvre hall that contains the Mona Lisa, and then hang a Duchamp urinal on the wall next to it; meanwhile, an adjoining men's room would be hung with a copy of the Mona Lisa, perhaps defaced with the infamous moustache. As virtually occurred with Duchamp's Fountain, Sivan's piece was rejected (The Fountain wasn't actually rejected by the Salon Des Independants, which had promised to take all comers, but made a point of hiding the urinal out of sight).

In a way, however, Columbia's rejection of Sivan's work isn't precisely the interesting thing about it (though the rejection was key to Fountain's notoriety). Rather, what's worth exploring is the way it reopens the question of art spaces, contexts, and institutions in the "post-avant-garde" age.

What's the significance of the gesture of hanging the urinal on the wall next to the Mona Lisa? Like a good midgame chess move, it's over-determined, ambiguous, polysemous. It could be part of several strategies at once: it may suggest a devaluation of high art spaces, such as the Louvre; alternatively, it could emphasize their recrudescence and triumph, having incorporated too the icons of skeptical modernism alongside the classical greats.

And to place the Mona Lisa in the restroom, well...that could be a renewed call to take everyday spaces seriously as loci of art. Or else it could be advocating for the cultural diminishment of the Renaissance painting, still tourist-beloved almost a century after L.H.O.O.Q. In a more scatological vein, in could imply there was indeed always something anal-retentive about the physical process of art collecting, going back to the days of King Francis himself.

Then there's the additional wrinkle that Sivan's creation exists only in virtual space, in rooms digitally rendered by an artist. There is where the rejection matters; had it been accepted it would have been made physical, the following question neutralized: is a virtual space legitimate for art viewing? Could it somehow be more versatile, better? How many people spend time in Lincoln Center as compared to Second Life or World of Warcraft? (This would be my next recommendation for Sivan: display his work in Second Life.) Does the prestige accrued by physically distinct, culturally blessed institutions such as Lincoln Center diminish as rapidly proliferating images and information (not to mention mimetic worlds inhabited by spatially disparate people), appear to mock geography? Or does the mysterious aura of immobile property simply reassert itself all the more strongly, revealing itself as a transcendent barrier to the nomadic, decentralized utopian dream?

Well, it's certainly interesting to think about.

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