April 1, 2011  |  Five for Friday
Five for Friday: Artists with Tricks Up Their Sleeves

Five for Friday, written by a variety of MoMA staff members, is our attempt to spotlight some of the compelling, charming, and downright curious works in the Museum’s rich collection. In honor of April Fool’s Day, we present some classics of artistic pranksterism.

April Fools!

1. Marcel Duchamp. L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved. 1965
The list would have to begin with Duchamp, the Ashton Kutcher of modern art. This work derives from one of the artist’s most famous Readymades: a cheap postcard of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa that the artist defacedmustache and beard, classic—and titled L.H.O.O.Q. The 1965 version loses the facial hair but keeps the ribald title; when spoken with French pronunciation, the letters sound like “Elle a chaud au cul,” a French phrase attesting to the Mona Lisa’s shapely derriere. Only, you know…less politely.

2. Piero Manzoni. Artist’s Shit No. 014. 1961
Go ahead and call this work shit—it’s just factually accurate. At least, if you take Manzoni’s word for it. The tin can in MoMA’s collection, one of 90 the artist created, remains sealed, and I trust I don’t have to explain why. Lest you think Manzoni’s a one-trick pony, though, observe: at times he also exhibited his breath (in a balloon) and his fingerprint (curiously, inked on a hard-boiled egg).

3. Vik Muniz. Three works from the series Personal Articles (from left, Hey If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Can’t You Ever Get a Date?, Elephant Women, and Hundreds Die by Own Hand). 2000
Muniz is an artist I can get behind—I mean, apart from being an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and a one-time guest curator at MoMA, the man paints with chocolate, and brilliantly. For this series, he created 64 fake news articles, mimicking the tone and format of contemporary newspapers so adeptly that they could almost be real. My personal fave: “Gender Dispute Flares Up Over Newest Urine-Powered Vehicle.” Newest?

4. Maurizio Cattelan. Untitled from Die/Die More/Die Better/Die Again. 2008
Cattelan is a notorious trickster: for his first solo show, he taped a note reading “Torno subito” (“I’ll be right back”) to the locked door of a Bolognese gallery, then peaced out. This print, a page from a cheerfully titled artist’s book that acts as a sort of published retrospective of Cattelan’s work, documents a performance in which Cattelan duct-taped Milanese gallerist Massimo de Carlo to the wall of his own gallery for a day—yes, this actually happened. Talk about biting the hand that, um, represents you.

5.  Tom Friedman. Untitled. 1995
Friedman’s ultra-realistic fly on a pristine pedestal is, for my money, the ultimate in trompe l’oeil art. Hats off to our security guards for keeping this little guy safe from swatters.

Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone! Beware Saran-wrapped toilets and salted toothbrushes.