A man was walking along the road. He saw something on the pavement in front of him. He stopped. “It looks like it,” he said, “it smells like it.” He bent over and touched it. He put his finger to his lips. “It tastes like it.” he said. He stepped over it and continued on his way. “Good thing I didn’t tread in it,” he thought.
He would not have had that problem at Form, Fellows, Attitude by Gelatin at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Firstly, there is no mistaking the four large objects in the room and secondly, he would not be able to climb over them, let alone tread in them, unless he had a very long ladder or a full set of carabiners, belay devices, a harness and a very long piece of rope. Despite their size, several metres in each direction, there was no getting away from it; the gallery was full of poo, four giant-size turds.
Gelatin, the four-man group of mischievous artists from Vienna who created this exhibition, is from the tradition of Relational Aesthetics in which anything is fair gain, art-wise. To accompany this show they dressed up in naked body costumes, all of which were hanging on clothes rails as one entered the exhibition. The tatty, ill-fitting flesh-coloured outfits had appliqué dangling naughty bits and pendulous boobs. Gelatin is not afraid of being controversial and raising a bit of a stink, not to mention an eyebrow, in fine art’s hallowed halls.
One of the functions of art, we are told, is to make us see things differently – I was going to say afresh – and this unique exhibition certainly achieves that. There are those who would rather not look at turds at all, regardless of size, those who would consider them in bad taste. But I think they would be missing something. Now, whether Gelatin’s objects are in the same league as, say, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain urinal or whether they are just taking the piss, is a matter for debate and opinion.
In one of the permanent galleries in the museum, in the Surrealist section, there is a small sculpture in a glass case by Salvador Dali entitled Scatological Object Intended to Function Symbolically which is made up of, among other things, a lady’s high-heeled shoe, some pubic hair, a wooden spoon, a piece of string, a glass of lukewarm milk, a sugar cube and a piece of ductile plastic that is excremental in colour. Now, there was a man who understood a thing or two about shit and how to present it as art.
Personally, I quite enjoyed this exhibition but I can understand if some people turned their noses up at it. There is something about monumental size turds that does make you think – and probably your eyes water. It was all done in the best possible taste even down to placing the poo on nice oriental carpets which gave them an almost cosy domestic feel. And, best of all, they didn’t smell. Michael Hasted 2nd June 2018