- Kris McKay/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
- The Trumps requested to borrow a Vincent Van Gogh painting from the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum. The president and First Lady hoped to display it in the Oval Office.
- The Guggenheim’s chief curator declined the request.
- Instead, she offered a fully functional, 18-karat gold toilet called “America.”
It’s tradition for US presidents to borrow famous artwork from museums in order to decorate the White House. The Smithsonian loaned the Kennedys “The Smoker,” a Eugène Delacroix painting. The Obamas picked abstract works by Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns.
In September 2017, the Trumps requested Vincent Van Gogh’s “Landscape With Snow” from the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The 1888 painting depicts a man in a black hat and his dog walking along a path in Arles, France.
In an email, Guggenheim chief curator Nancy Spector declined. Instead, she offered an 18-karat solid gold toilet by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, the Washington Post reports.
The toilet was available “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by The Post.
The artist “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan,” she continued. “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”
Called “America,” the modern sculpture was on display at the museum for a year starting in September 2016. It’s meant to comment on the American dream, as well as criticize the excess of wealth and exclusivity in the art world in the US, according to the museum. It was open to anyone who paid admission.
Cattelan has referred to the work as “1% art for the 99%,” since it makes an extravagant luxury product available to the public. He also hopes people will draw their own conclusions from the piece, which is expected to have cost over $1 million.
For the installation, Cattelan replaced a regular toilet in one of the museum’s bathroom stalls with the fully functional, gold toilet. A security guard stood at the restroom’s entrance as people waited to use it, and explained to visitors that it’s a piece of artwork before they entered. (The guard also protected the installation from those who hoped to walk away with a highly valuable souvenir.)
Once visitors made it into the stall, they could have a nice sit and contemplate the meaning of “America.” In a 2017 Guggenheim blog post, Spector wrote that more than 100,000 people “waited patiently in line for the opportunity to commune with art and with nature.” In September 2017, the sculpture went to the Guggenheim’s museum in Bilbao, Spain, and then later came back to New York.
It’s now in storage indefinitely at the museum – that is, unless the White House wants it.