Golden throne open for business

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's solid 18K-gold copy of a Kohler toilet in a restroom of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's solid 18K-gold copy of a Kohler toilet in a restroom of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • The throne has arrived. Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's fully functional, solid 18-karat-gold copy of a Kohler toilet - an over- the-top apotheosis of wealth - was installed in the humble restroom on the fifth-floor ramp of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum late last week and opened for business to anyone with the urge yesterday.

The sculpture, titled America, was supposed to have arrived months earlier, but it turned out that moulding and welding together that much gold was far trickier than anyone anticipated.

And yet after all the high-wire, high-security work to make the piece in a foundry in Florence, its installation was not much different from that of any toilet in any restroom in the world. Mr Michael Zall, the museum's associate director of facilities operations, said a trusted plumber hooked it up, "with some butterflies in his stomach".

He added: "If he was ever a regular plumber, he's not anymore."

Cattelan, 55, who mostly lives in Milan, was on hand on Tuesday as the piece was being tested out, giddy and a bit nervous. He is known as one of the art world's most nimble jesters - and one of the most expensive living artists at auction - but he has said he hopes people do not see the toilet sculpture as a joke.

It is at the same time an absurd sendup of inequality and a kind of gift to the museumgoer, a rare chance to spend private time with something ravishingly beautiful.

The sculpture's cost is not being revealed. The piece will remain in place and in use indefinitely.

The artist invited me to try it. Because I both needed to and wanted to, I did, locking the door behind me. I have interacted with some art in my years of writing about it - I once got to tweak an Alexander Calder wire portrait, as he intended, setting its facial features into lovely animated motion. But I had never urinated on someone's art.

The sculpture really looks its best when in use, sparkling so much it is almost too bright to look at, especially during the flush, which may be a new postmodern sublime. I put down the incredibly heavy seat, washed my hands and went back out to find Cattelan.

He said: "I'm happy because it's not on a pedestal, it's not in a gallery. It's in a little room, just waiting for you whenever you need it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2016, with the headline 'Golden throne open for business'. Print Edition | Subscribe