On Saturday, the otherwise unremarkable fourth-floor bathroom in the Guggenheim Museum saw an artistic intervention whereby the currently installed, stock white toilet was completely enveloped in coarse, glimmering gold yarn. The bathroom in question was previously and rather infamously activated by Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet (“America,” 2016). While that work stayed in place for a full year, Saturday’s unsanctioned intervention remained in place for roughly two hours.
“We can confirm an intervention of a crocheted piece that covered a toilet on the museum’s Ramp 4,” a spokesperson for the Guggenheim told Hyperallergic. “The intervention came to the attention of security personnel near the end of our Pay-What-You-Wish hours on Saturday evening and was carefully removed and sent to the registrar’s office. There was no damage and nothing was vandalized. The Guggenheim does not encourage unauthorized interventions; however, we are heartened that a visitor was so inspired by the Cattelan installation that they were moved to create one of their own.”
To anyone even remotely familiar with the inner workings of New York’s contemporary art scene, this particular guerrilla art intervention, in every respect, screams of the Polish fiber and knitwear artist, Olek. When asked over the phone about the Guggenheim intervention, Olek — an irreverent cross between a Guerrilla Girl and a Pussy Riot member — would neither confirm nor deny authorship.
Olek has made a name for herself by covering famous statues and monuments with her distinctive, multi-colored “yarn-bombing.” In 2010, long before the arrival of “Fearless Girl,” Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” statue — perhaps one of the more overt symbols of wealth, capitalism, industry, and generally masculine, patriarchal notions of American strength and success — was wrapped snuggly and surprisingly in Olek’s pink and purple camouflage pattern. A year later, she wrapped the Astor Place cube in a similar dressing. In 2012 she traveled to Barcelona to give Fernando Botero’s giant sculpture of a cat a similar treatment. Later that summer, in Washington, DC, Olek covered the National Academy of Science’s Albert Einstein Memorial in pink and purple crocheted fabric. Her use of these colors — those often attributed to a particular sex and catering to established female gender norms — one would assume, is no accident.
Though the always playfully ferocious Olek doesn’t lead with feminist talking points, it’s difficult not to contextualize her works as playful but nevertheless punk rock acts of feminist protest. Each project is a brazen, uninvited takeover of otherwise masculine-charged and over-sized art objects.
In the case of the Guggenheim intervention, the artist (whomever he or she may be) is adding another dimension to Cattelan’s “America,” which resurfaced in the news recently when the Guggenheim’s deputy director Nancy Spector offered to lend the gold toilet to the Trumps. Here, the unnamed yarn-bomber is doubling down on Cattelan’s joke and Spector’s subsequent, suave, punk rock act of political rebellion via polite curatorial sassiness. The artist, if she is in fact female, may also be making a guerrilla statement about the lack of representation of women in institutional spaces.
As the sculptor Antony Gormley said of Olek’s work in 2012, when she covered his seaside sculptures in the UK with her yarn costumes: “I feel that barnacles provide the best cover-up, but this is a very impressive substitute!” Though the US political machine currently seems to be riddled with barnacle types, perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate potentially vibrant alternatives — however fleeting they may be.