Maurizio Cattelan’s America & The stolen golden toilet

Maurizio Cattelan - Installation view, America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2016-2017
Maurizio Cattelan – Installation view, America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2016-2017

Who is Maurizio Cattelan?

Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist born in 1960 in Padua, Italy. His career in sculpting and art began way back in the 1980s through the making of wooden furniture. This was in his home country, but soon he mainly immersed himself in creating controversial sculptures whenever he could. Some have described his work as “post-Duchampian”, referencing French artist Marcel Duchamp.

In the broad art scene, he might be the biggest joker out there. Cattelan slowly transitioned from wooden works to paintings to wax sculptures and those of stone and other heavy, durable materials. He even dubbed in the publishing and curating sector of the art world in the period of 2005 – 2010.

Maurizio Cattelan - Installation view, America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2016-2017
Maurizio Cattelan – Installation view, America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2016-2017

Style

His works are mostly satirical and ironic and always full of humorous twists. The art makes a great comedy of different systems of order and governance, whether social or political. Themes and motifs from the prior art and various cultural sectors are much used in his works to help portray his messages.

Maurizio’s ability to create captivating works both astonished and motivated his audience and colleagues to always keep up with his progress. The use of puns and humor led him to be a worldwide sensation as he significantly uses the media to drive his points across to the general audience.

One great controversial work was the La Nona Ora of 1999, where he made a life-like wax sculpture of Pope John Paul getting hit by a meteorite. The statue stirred up quite a ruckus in the religious circles but didn’t deter him from going on ahead with his crazy art designs. Other satirical works include; Him of 2001, L.O.V.E. of 2010 and his most recent and quite controversial so far, America of 2016.

Maurizio Cattelan - America, 2016
Maurizio Cattelan – America, 2016, photo: Tom Lindboe

America

This work came after the artist had declared his decision to retire from art making back in 2015. The time off stirred up his artistic touch into creating an 18 karat, fully functioning solid gold toilet.

The golden toilet was a popular artwork at the Guggenheim in New York before being transferred to the 18th-century palace in England, where it was reported stolen in 2019. The masterpiece was received with quite a stir in the United States as Cattelan said it represented and expressed the excess wealth in the country. Having its debut in the public scene coinciding with Trump’s candidacy for president sparked even more talk of this piece.

The America piece expressed how, in modern times, the overly rich and the poor ultimately connect toilet-wise. This work was last estimated to be worth almost $6 million, but Maurizio Cattelan refused to comment on this or even the cost of producing the sculpture.

Maurizio Cattelan - Installation view, America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2016-2017
Maurizio Cattelan – Installation view, America, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2016-2017, photo: Kristopher McKay/Guggenheim

Theft

Maurizio Cattelan always hit the headlines for his hyperrealistic sculptures and installations. But in September 2019, the attention was for different reasons. Before 5 am on 14 September1, a working toilet titled American was stolen from his exhibition at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, a place that is also famous for being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

At the time, America was valued at $6m and because of that, a reward of $133,244 was offered. But two years later, the 18-carat gold toilet is still missing2 and no one has been charged with its theft.

What happened to the golden toilet?

At the time of the theft, the golden toilet had only been installed two days earlier by Maurizio Cattelan. On that fateful day, a gang broke into the stately building and caused massive damage and flooding to the World Heritage Site since the toilet was plumbed into the house. The squad ripped out the piece of art by using brute force.

The trio of gangsters crept inside and ripped out the working toilet from the ground and then carried it through the palace before loading it into the boot of a getaway car and making a dash for freedom before dawn.

Italian artist and sculptor Maurizio Cattelan was reported to be “mortified3” by claims he was behind the theft in a Banksy-inspired prank. Even after a handsome reward by Fine Art Specie Adjusters (FASA), the palace’s insurance partner, the toilet is yet to be found, three years on.

At the time, Philip Austin of FASA stated that the huge reward was an impetus for inciting members of the public to reveal any information or the piece of plumbing itself. He also expressed caution4:

We have to be very careful that we don’t pay the villains.

Maurizio Cattelan himself is also known for his past mischievous stunts and that is why some skeptics thought the burglary was an elaborate publicity stunt. But he refuted those claims, telling The Mirror5:

I wish it was a prank. Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet?

Where is the toilet now?

Two years later and the golden toilet is yet to be found. What now? After a series of arrests6, no one has been charged yet. Many are wondering where the artwork could be today. Could it be melted down by the burglars?

There is a possibility, according to Dominic Hare, the chief executive of the palace. He said7 it was “not out of the question [the toilet] would be melted down” by the thieves, while Maurizio Cattelan praised the burglars as “great performers8“.

All images: Maurizio Cattelan unless otherwise noted.

 

More by Maurizio Cattelan

Footnotes

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/sep/14/gold-toilet-reportedly-stolen-blenheim-palace-cattelan
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-58529069
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-49713947
  4. https://www.wcjb.com/content/news/3-more-arrests-made-in-theft-of-solid-gold-toilet-563220401.html
  5. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/prankster-denies-stealing-blenheim-palaces-20071473
  6. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-53168904
  7. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/stolen-blenheim-palace-5m-golden-20067275
  8. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/gold-toilets-creator-says-the-thieves-are-the-real-artists-gggk63xfl

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