Florentijn Hofman’s “Rubber Duck” (2009) (image via the artist)

This duck tale is no canard: An Emirates car wash is in hot water after deploying in Dubai Creek a maritime facsimile of Florentijn Hofman’s giant rubber duck — “Rubber Duck” (2009) — as a marketing stunt. Hofman’s project, which has moored in the harbors of Amsterdam, Lommel, Osaka, Sydney, Sao Paulo, and Pittsburgh, among others, is a strange gambit, made all the stranger by the first unauthorized Chinese duplication that dogged the work in May. Angrily remarking on the Hong Kong rip-off of his work earlier this summer, the artist thundered to the Wall Street Journal that his creation “is a yellow catalyst. Right now what it is showing is that there is a lack of trust in China, and that is an enormous problem.” But even giant duckies are not immune from Karl Marx’s ubiquitous formulation on history’s double acts. First as tragedy, then as farce.


Not a barrel of laughs. (image via the artist)

The latest turn in the duck’s caper on the high seas, first reported today in the local blog The Culturist, has again provoked Hofman’s ire, this time through flagrant added injury — the organizers linked to the artist’s website in the press release unveiling their misbegotten bird. “The one in Dubai is a pirate version,” Hofman told 7 Days in Dubai. “My duck is in Taiwan.” The same report notes that the artist is pursuing legal action and has nixed Dubai as prospective duckie host: “We were talking to some people in Dubai about our world tour. This has spoiled the possibility,” he said.

The Chinese duplicate was commissioned by GeoWash, “the UAE’s largest environment-friendly mobile car wash service,” in an apparent attempt to aggressively cross-promote their business by “creat[ing] awareness about the importance of water conservation while also celebrating the 42nd UAE National Day and Dubai’s Expo 2020 win.”

Whether this is mere forgery, rapacious corporate appropriation of a cherished bathtub denizen, or a brilliant act of conceptual vandalism remains to be seen. But in the wake of the brouhaha, perhaps it is best to leave this tension unresolved and instead bask in the vibes of Hofman’s original description of the work:

The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them. The rubber duck is soft, friendly and suitable for all ages!

Update, 12/4: GeoWash’s Bijith Bhaskar has taken to Twitter today to defend his company’s actions (see below); Dubai-based Hind Mezaina of The Culturist has also noted that she broke the duck story on November 30, not 7 Days in Dubai as we had previously reported.

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

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