The Guggenheim Offers The White House A Gold Toilet

The Guggenheim Offers The White House A Gold Toilet

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Tara Bellucci
Jan 27, 2018
Installation view: Maurizio Cattelan: “America”, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, September 15, 2016–September 15, 2017. Photo: Kristopher McKay
Maurizio Cattelan: "America", Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, September 15, 2016–September 15, 2017
(Image credit: Kristopher McKay)

When the White House requested to borrow a Vincent van Gogh painting from the Guggenheim, the New York museum had a crappy counteroffer: a used gold toilet.

In a September email published by the Washington Post, the White House's Office of the Curator requested to borrow the post-Impressionist work, entitled Landscape with Snow, for the official residence (which, the Post notes, is a common practice).

Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector responded that the work was due to be displayed at the Guggenheim in Spain, and would be returning to New York after, since it was "prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions" by the Thannhauser Estate.

The counteroffer was Maurizio Cattelan's "America"—a fully functional 18-karat gold toilet that had been on display in one of the museum's public restrooms for one year, of which the exhibit was ending the day of the email. Cattelan, she wrote, "would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan."

While Cattelan hesitates to interpret his own work, critics have described it as a commentary on wealth in the US. The Guggenheim's notes on the work describe it as "making available to the public an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the 1 percent." In a 2017 blog post, Spector wrote:

Though crafted from millions of dollars' worth of gold, the sculpture is actually a great leveler. As Cattelan has said, "Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise."

While it's certainly no van Gogh, "America" made many a headline, including the New York Post's September 15, 2016 edition: "We're #1 (and #2!)," with an article titled, "The Guggenheim Wants You to Crap All Over 'America.' "

The White House declined to comment to the Washington Post about the offer, but Twitter, naturally, has thoughts:

Though not everyone was amused by the potty humor:

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