A new installment at the Guggenheim Museum will offer visitors the opportunity to live like royalty—at least for one glorious bathroom break, that is.
Today, the upper East Side art museum unveiled America, a fully functional toilet cast in 18-karat gold by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Five years ago, Cattelan announced his retirement by hanging almost every one of his works on Guggenheim’s spiral atrium. America is Cattelan’s first piece back in the art world, and its home is fittingly at the museum where he said goodbye.
Cattelan installed the chic commode in one of the museum’s small, single-unit restrooms, and encourages all visitors to use the toilet during their visit. The gold toilet, a working replica of a model by plumbing manufacturer Kohler, will be on display indefinitely.
Curator Nancy Spector from the Brooklyn Museum, who helped bring the project to the Guggenheim, breaks down the simple way the exhibit will work to Merrit Kennedy at NPR’s The Two-Way:
"People will most likely wait in line...and individuals will use it one at a time. There will be a security guard outside who will explain to people what the piece is ... And then people will use it as they would a bathroom."
For those wondering how the museum plans to maintain the flamboyant john, Spector tells Kennedy that the museum’s sculpture conservator has studied the material and will use a form of steam cleaning to ensure its functionality.
The ornate piece, which Cattelan has jokingly called the “one-percent art for the ninety-nine percent,” gives a nod to Marcel Duchamp’s infamous piece, Fountain. The artwork, a standard urinal signed and dated “R. Mutt 1917,” sparked controversy when the board of directors for the Society of Independent Artists refused to display it in their inaugural exhibition. The board of directors claimed the urinal could not be considered a work of art, and furthermore, that it was indecent.
In a new edition of the Guggenheim’s catalogue, Spector argues that the exhibit stands out because, as she puts it, “In a gallery environment where visitors are constantly being told, ‘don’t touch,’ this is an extraordinary opportunity to spend time completely alone with a work of art by a leading contemporary artist.”
If America seems a touch off beat, well, it’s just Cattelan’s latest in a long line of mischievous provocation. Before his earlier retirement, the artist once leased his allotted space at the Venice Biennale to an advertising agency, which installed a billboard promoting a new perfume. On another occasion, he stole the entire contents of another artist’s show with the intent of passing it off as his own. (The act, he said, was a statement on displacement.)
Cattelan prefers the audience to draw their own conclusions about America, as Caitlin Dover notes for the museum’s blog. Both he and the museum encourage visitors to spend a bit of alone time with the pretentious potty, so that they can ponder its meaning for themselves.