At Large  May 6, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Fit for a King (or President): Your Chance to Use Cattelan’s Famous Golden Toilet

moody Man/flickr

Maurizio Cattelan's America, installed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, September 15, 2016–September 15, 2017

This fall, Blenheim Palace, an estate and museum outside of Oxford, England, will offer a unique interactive art experience. As part of a Maurizio Cattelan solo exhibition opening September 12, America, a fully functioning solid 18-Karat gold toilet, will be installed and available for use.

The cheeky work of art was recently in the spotlight when the Guggenheim offered to loan the work to the White House. President Trump originally requested to borrow Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting Landscape with Snow for his private quarters, which the Guggenheim declined to lend out, citing the fragility of the work. In response, the Guggenheim proposed lending out America, an offer the White House appears to have declined. The offer may have been in earnest, or it may have been a jeer at the President’s famously gaudy tastes. Though created prior to the Trump presidency, many, perhaps including staff at the Guggenheim, have found the critique of American consumerism that America offers apt in light of current events.

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Vincent van Gogh, Landscape with Snow, 1888

Cattelan (Italian, b. 1960) is known for his satirical sculpture, and is not one to shy away from controversy. His most famous work, La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour, 1999), is a life-sized model of Pope John Paul II, shown collapsed on the ground in full papal regalia, struck down by a meteorite. Cattelan has also depicted Hitler in his work (Him, 2001) and once placed a massive marble middle-finger in a square in Milan (L.O.V.E., 2011). When America debuted at the Guggenheim in 2016, 100,000 visitors reportedly used it, some of them waiting in line for up to two hours. 

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Him by Maurizio Cattelan, depicting Adolf Hitler kneeling in prayer, exhibited in a courtyard in the former Warsaw Ghetto.

Bridging humor and searing social critique, Cattelan’s work walks a provocative line, one that may seem out of place in an 18th-century Baroque palace in the British countryside. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace bills itself as one of the greatest estates in England. The birthplace of Winston Churchill and home for generations to the Dukes of Marlborough and their families, the historic home and grounds hosts sporting and cultural events, and offers tours of the home and gardens. The Blenheim Art Foundation sponsors contemporary art exhibitions, past artists including Ai Weiwei, Lawrence Weiner, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jenny Holzer and Yves Klein.

The show, Cattelan's first major exhibition in England in decades, will run through October 27.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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