The fully functional 18-karat gold toilet that dazzled and delighted visitors to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City during its year-long installation in 2016-2017 was stolen from Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, on Saturday — just two days after its British debut. The toilet is said to be worth $6 million.
Called “America,” the irreverent work by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, was heisted from the palace — the birthplace of Winston Churchill — in the wee hours of the morning by a team using two getaway vehicles. The exhibit had been set to run through October 27.
Ironically, in an August interview with The Times, Edward Spencer-Churchill, the founder of the Blenheim Art Foundation, poo-pooed the idea of the toilet being stolen.
"It's not going to be the easiest thing to nick (steal)," Spencer-Churchill said. "Firstly, it's plumbed in, and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don't plan to be guarding it."
Another barrier to stealing a gold toilet was its weight. Gold is an extremely dense material. A standard gold bar (7 inches x 3 5/8 inches x 1 3/4 inches), for example, weighs 400 troy ounces, or 27.5 pounds.
Undaunted, the bandits entered the palace some time before 4:50 a.m. on Saturday and unceremoniously ripped the commode from its plumbing fixtures.
"Due to the toilet being plumbed in to the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding," Detective Inspector Jess Milne said in the statement. "We believe a group of offenders used at least two vehicles during the offense."
Artist Cattelan seemed to be amused that his work of art has become the subject of an elaborate heist.
"When this morning I was informed about the robbery," said Cattelan, "I thought it was a prank and it took me a while to come to the conclusion that it was true and it wasn't a surreal movie where instead of the jewels of the crown, the thieves went away with a toilet. I always liked heist movies and finally I'm in one of them."
When the toilet was exhibited in New York City, the Guggenheim’s website noted that Cattelan’s toilet was a social commentary about the excesses of the art market, while also evoking the American dream of opportunity for all. The toilet's basic utility reminded us of the inescapable physical realities of our shared humanity.
“This is 1 percent art for the 99 percent,” Cattelan told the New York Post during the opening of the exhibition in 2016.
Visitors to the Guggenheim were encouraged to use the golden toilet, and over the course of the exhibition more than 100,000 people waited patiently in line for an "opportunity to commune with art and with nature,” noted Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim’s artistic director and chief curator.
Credits: Photo by Kris McKay © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.