What is it with conceptual artists and toilets? Everyone knows about Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a scandalous piece that made everyone clutch their pearls in the 20th century. Throughout the years, there were many attempts to either recreate or add a new meaning to Duchamp’s idea by contributing to the original piece in various ways (for example, by urinating in it). The latest and most famous example of a toilet becoming an art piece, America by the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, was stolen in 2019 from its designated place in Blenheim Palace in the UK. The case remained cold until very recently, with the Crown Prosecution Service announcing they finally charged four suspects with theft of the golden toilet.
Maurizio Cattelan’s Golden Toilet Thieves Were Finally Charged
The sculpture, which was an actual fully functioning golden toilet, was stolen from Blenheim Palace on September 14, 2019. The fact that the theft was even possible is particularly puzzling: the toilet sculpture was connected to the building’s water pipes and installed like any other regular toilet. For this reason, very few security measures were in place to protect the conceptual art piece. Apparently, because America was plumbed in, its theft caused a floor in the building. Besides, the toilet was pretty heavy, weighing around 200 lbs.
Maurizio Cattelan, the artist known for making provocative installation art, responded to the 2019 incident in a humorous tone. He was apparently confused as to why anyone would want to steal a toilet and added that he always liked heist movies.
In 2023, four men were criminally charged, but the fate of the sculpture remains unknown. According to theories proposed by police, the golden toilet was most likely melted down and resold.
Cattelan did not comment on the meaning behind the gilded toilet in any way. The Guggenheim Museum, where the sculpture was first displayed before being transferred to Blenheim Palace, suggested that the sculpture was supposed to criticize the excessive wealth of politicians. One could also make an obvious connection between the piece and its 20th-century predecessor, Duchamp’s Fountain. Certain art critics shared that using the unusual sculpture for its intended purpose at Blenheim Palace felt like “peeing on porcelain.” Others noted that this is a perfect work of art for people who wish to fulfill a craving for a close and personal relationship with the artist and their creations.