On 4 May, New York’s Guggenheim Museum will install a controversial artwork by Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan. Titled ‘America’, the sculpture is a fully functioning toilet made entirely of 18-carat gold. Museum patrons who’ve paid the entrance fee will be able to either appreciate the object as an artwork or as a public convenience – or both.
The toilet will be installed in one of the museum’s single-person, unisex toilets. It will be under permanent guard to prevent vandalism, but patrons will be free to use it as they would any other toilet.
The 56-year-old Italian, who has come out of a five-year retirement to create ‘America’, is known for his satirical edge. Another sculpture, entitled ‘La Nona Ora’ (‘The Ninth Hour’), features Pope John Paul II in full regalia being crushed by a meteorite. Jonathan P. Binstock, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, describes Cattelan as “one of the great post-Duchampian artists and a smartass, too.” The golden toilet’s scatological humour hearkens back almost a century to the classic 1917 ‘found object’ sculpture ‘Fountain’ by French-American artist Marcel Duchamp. While initially rejected by an American gallery, ‘Fountain’ has since become a landmark in the history of contemporary art. Cattelan has added elements of interactivity and material excess to Duchamp’s concept.
The Guggenheim anticipates the queues outside the golden toilet will be longer than would ordinarily be the case. Intending to exhibit the artwork indefinitely, the museum says it is a reference to the American dream. According to a media statement, “The new work makes available to the public an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the 1 percent.” The cost of the artwork, which was paid for with private funds, remains undisclosed.