At Large  September 17, 2019  Chandra Noyes

$6 Million Toilet Stolen from Blenheim Palace


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

While art heists small and large are more common than we’d like them to be, the thefts usually involve paintings or sculptures which are handily snatched and carried off by the guilty parties. On Sunday, enterprising thieves in the Oxfordshire, England went above and beyond to snatch a unique work of art. 

Displayed as part of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibition at Blenheim Palace, America is a fully-functioning 18-karat gold commode, valued at $6 million. Visitors are welcome to use the work of art, which was previously installed at the Guggenheim in 2016, where 100,000 visitors lined up to use it, some of them waiting for up to two hours for the privilege.

America, which Cattelan (Italian, b. 1960) has described as "1% art for the 99%," entered the spotlight in 2017 when a curator at the Guggenheim offered the piece on loan to the Trump White House. President Trump had originally requested to borrow Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting Landscape with Snow for his private quarters. While the Guggenheim declined to loan out the fragile and valuable work, they suggested America as a replacement. The White House did not respond to the offer.

The Cattelan exhibition, titled Victory is Not an Option, was set to open to the public on Saturday, with an opening reception having taken place on Friday night. Not long after the party, a group of thieves got to work extracting the toilet from its setting, which was reported stolen at 4:50 A.M. on Saturday. In their rush to make off with the work, they left extensive water damage in their wake. The Blenheim Palace shared a dramatic image of the crime scene on Twitter, showing the smashed wood and bent plumbing left behind.

Despite thieves having stolen their thunder, Blenheim Palace is encouraging people to visit the Cattelan exhibition, which has much to offer, although your bathroom break may be slightly less glamorous without the famed golden toilet. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace is a Baroque masterpiece and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, with its own collection of valuable art and antiques, as well as impressive grounds.

Magnus Manske/wikimedia commons

Blenheim Palace

Though the toilet has yet to be recovered, one man has been arrested in connection with the theft. Cattelan, who is known for the biting sense of humor found in much of his work, told The New York Times that he initially thought news of the theft was a prank.

"Who's so stupid to steal a toilet? I had forgotten for a second that it was made out of gold," he said, adding, “I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action.”

The show must go own, and the exhibition, which is slated to run through October 27, has reopened to the public after being closed Saturday following the theft. 

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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