Pure Shit

Cloaca #5, Wim Delvoye

Reminiscing a bit, I lived in New York when this  mind numbing piece was first shown at the New Museum. I never went to see it and so didn’t get the full impact of the artistic experience, i.e. smelling the shit produced by the machine. So I’m afraid that I can’t verify that it actually smelled like human shit. But I’ll take the critics at their word.

Below the innovative brilliance and revolutionary insights into the meaning of art that Wim Delvoye has presented us with. Since the lay observer no doubt simply sees this as a mechanical device producing human-like shit, it’s necessary for our art priesthood to decipher the deep messages being elucidated:


(Apologies…. I see that the link has been taken down by the New Museum … could it be they’ve scrubbed the site of Delvoye’s shit? A search on his name turns up nothing. It’s so hard referencing contemporary art when it evaporates so readily… leaving only the fumes behind…)

We read that Delvoye’s art “picked up on the ironic ambivalence of the neoconceptual generation (Jeff Koons, et al) while anticipating some of the identity questions that would dominate art in the following decade.”

I’d certainly agree that a machine that makes shit does indeed anticipate some of the identity questions that would dominate art in the following decade. Who could argue with that? Prior to Delvoye’s contribution art had hardly cracked the barriers of the shit that was to follow in its footsteps. We hadn’t yet seen Santiago Sierra’s brilliant piece where paid “performers” are arranged in a museum space where they then proceed to  sodomize each other… Paul McCarthy’s giant turd sculptures. Where to next? So many frontiers still left!… Don’t forget human beings have more than one orifice! Don’t tell me that the avant-garde is going to lose its nerve as we approach the next hurdle to art’s advance.

Dan Cameron, the curator responsible for displaying Delvoye’s work, can’t resist showing off his boundless art historical knowledge by referring us to Piero Manzoni as the “important historical precedent”. Yes, Piero Manzoni, of immortal “I canned my shit. You want to buy it?” fame. The answer, was of course a resounding and enthusiastic yes from MoMA. If MoMA says it’s art, every other Museum in the world agrees and so the rest of the honking geese follow suit. If MoMA calls Jeff Koons great art then every other Museum in the world must have a Jeff Koons.

Delvoye’s is hardly an original idea. The precedent for Cloaca goes back to 1739 and the famous Digesting Duck of Jacques de Vaucanson, which Delvoye has clearly, with Bob Dylan-esque aplomb, ripped off without the proper accreditation. Yes, Bob Dylan, the great painter himself, making ham-handed versions of photographs he’s plundered without attribution and showing where else? Larry Gagosian Gallery.

Voltaire said of the Digestive Duck at the time that without the Duck “There would be nothing to remind you of the glory of France.”

Seeing the genius of Delvoye on display with Cloaca I picked up his Venice biennale 2009 contribution. :

A critic remarks about Delvoye’s piece that it “draws inspiration from masterpieces of gothic architecture such as Notre Dame, Paris and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine”.  I’d put it this way: “Delvoye copies gothic architecture verbatim and satirically reduces it to a   sterile and decorative form.” Obviously. How else would it merit inclusion in the Venice Biennale if it didn’t reek of Post-Modern emptiness? That’s all Post-Modern art amounts to…. tedious plagiarism. And, of course, the fantastic wittiness of all of it. The ironic ambivalence.

Here’s a great cinematic artist drawing inspiration from gothic architecture…. :


About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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