Monthly Archives: August 2016

This Secret Duchampian Password Will Get You Into Museums for Free

Word is leaking out, as it were, about how a simple art-historical fact can get you free admission to more than a dozen museums worldwide on April 9, courtesy of Dada master Marcel Duchamp.

But you’ll have to know a code word.

It all relates to Duchamp’s first Readymade, the infamous Fountain (1917), a simple urinal from a plumbing supply shop that was inscribed with the faux signature “R. Mutt.” Richard Mutt was supposedly the name of the plumber who had created the urinal, which, through the simple act of calling it art, Duchamp would transform into an artwork. It was a gesture that would change art for good, paving the way for movements like conceptual art and appropriation art.

This year marks the centennial of the work, which created a scandal when Duchamp submitted it anonymously to the first juried art show organized by the Society of Independent Artists, in New York; Duchamp and other artists would resign in protest from the jury when the work was rejected.

Come April 9, the work’s birthday, all you have to do is identify yourself as R. Mutt or Richard Mutt at the admissions desk between 3 and 4 p.m., and you can get free admission, according to a press release, to institutions including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, Paris’s Pompidou Center (that is, if the strike ends and the museum reopens), the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Kunsthalle Basel, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, and the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem.

But code words are meant to be a secret, right? And this one seems to be so hush-hush that when artnet News attempted to get confirmation of the initiative from press offices at a few of the participating museums, the response was unequivocal: “We aren’t offering any kind of special access on that date,” writes a press rep at Tate Modern. “We are not part of the project,” says a press officer at the Hamburger Bahnhof.

The response from MoMA’s press department, though, seems to provide a little wiggle room: “We cannot confirm MoMA’s participation.”

UPDATE: Wednesday morning, a press representative of MoMA contacted artnet News to say that “I can confirm that The Museum of Modern Art is not participating in a free ticket offer.”

So what gives?

The project does, indeed, seem too fanciful to be true. According to the announcement, a dedicated men’s room in each institution will be a unisex bathroom, “to provide space for everyone wanting to honor the centennial … with impromptu readings, homages, proclamations, and performances.” (Curiously enough, the project happens to come at the same time that admission to bathrooms for transgender people is increasingly contested in the US.)

The enigmatic initiative is organized by Thomas Girst, who, in his day job, is Head of Cultural Engagement for carmaker BMW, and has penned or co-authored books such as The Duchamp Dictionary, The Indefinite Duchamp, and Aftershock: The Legacy of the Readymade in Post-War and Contemporary American Art. Reached by phone on Monday, he insisted that it’s all for real.

One museum that readily confirmed its participation is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which stewards a legendary collection of the artist’s work. Its holdings include key works such as the so-called Large Glass and Étant donnés, which the artist worked on in secret for years and which, says the institution, Jasper Johns called “the strangest work of art in any museum.”

Arts advocates raise their voices

A capacity crowd of 400 rallied at the steps of City Hall in downtown Manhattan on Monday to speak out against proposed cuts to public funding of arts and culture by the Trump administration. A budget that Trump put forth in March would zero out funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Library and Museum Services.

Speakers on Monday included Talking Heads frontman (and enthusiastic visual artist) David Byrne and Broadway actors Jelani Remy and L. Steven Taylor (Simba and Mufasa in The Lion King, respectively). Accompanying the demonstration were several musicians with brass and wind instruments, serenading the speakers from a nearby section of City Hall Park.

The New York City Hall rally echoed the sentiments of a call put out by leading art figures like Marina Abramović, Laurie Anderson, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Julian Schnabel, and Richard Serra to defend public arts funding.

Local government was out in force, with Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, who emceed the event, starting things off with a fiery call to action. “Trump talks about ‘making America great again,’” he said, “but you don’t make a country great by crushing its soul.” He called Trump’s budget “an unprecedented and vicious assault” on the very idea of culture.

Byrne made an economic argument for public support of the arts, pointing out there’s a great return on investment in terms of jobs and tax revenues, and got laughs when he said, “You may hate the arts, but it’s complete stupidity to destroy this part of the economy.”

Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, managed to wring a laugh from the crowd as well, starting off by touting the city’s considerable culture budget and saying, “You want to be number one in everything, right? We are number two in funding of the arts. We do not want to be number one.”

Learning Apprentice to LA Art Star Thomas Houseago

That’s one way to cope. On the heels of his divorce from Angelina Jolie, actor Brad Pitt is honing his art skills under the tutelage of British sculptor Thomas Houseago, according to the British tabloid the Daily Mail.

The 53-year-old actor is reportedly spending marathon sessions of up to 15 hours a day in Houseago’s Los Angeles studio, staying long after the artist’s assistants have called it a day.

“Art is a way for him to concentrate on one thing, taking his mind off everything else,” an unnamed source hypothesized to the Mail, adding that Pitt is “learning at a fast pace.”

The tabloid speculates that Pitt was inspired to become a sculptor himself after attending a conversation between Houseago and Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea, in which Houseago spoke of his own personal difficulties. (The event was at the Broad art museum, and is archived on Facebook Live.) Evidently, Pitt and Houseago live near each other in the same “exclusive compound” and “have been friends for some time.”

Pitt’s newfound passion for sculpting has even taken precedence over Hollywood’s annual award season. Aside from a brief appearance at the Golden Globes in January, Pitt blew off all other ceremonies and galas. He even skipped the Oscars despite being one of the producers of Best Picture winning film “Moonlight.”

But Pitt’s interest in art is long-standing.Two years ago, he was spotted visiting Berlin gallery Sprüth Magers to see Ed Ruscha’s “Metro Mattress” exhibition, which featured drawings of discarded mattresses to invoke Los Angeles’ urban landscape. Together, Pitt and Jolie amassed a collection that has been estimated to be worth $25 million. Prior to the couple’s well-publicized split, they acquired pieces from artists such as Marcel Dzama, Banksy, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, and Neo Rauch.