If there's any artist who could believably be accused of destroying and stealing his own solid 18-karat gold masterpiece, it's Maurizio Cattelan; after all, the Italian artist and professional provocateur tellingly used the precious metal to form a fully functioning toilet. Cheekily titled America, it first rose to infamy in 2016, when its installation in a fifth-floor bathroom of New York's Guggenheim Museum allowed more than 100,000 people to make use of its full functionality. In fact, the commode was such a hot commodity that for the duration of its installation, the line never ceased, from the museum's opening hours through closing.
After weathering a crushing rejection from Donald Trump, who declined to accept the Guggenheim's offer to loan America instead of the Van Gogh that he originally requested, the toilet retreated. But last week, it returned to the public eye with a significant upgrade in location: a water closet inside Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the birthplace and family home of Winston Churchill, which is also now the site of Cattelan's new exhibition that opened on Thursday.
Alas, America only got to enjoy its new home for a matter of days. By Saturday, in the early hours of around five in the morning, the toilet was ripped from its new home, ripping the bathroom's wood-paneled walls and causing a significant amount of flooding, seeing as it had already been hooked up to the palace's plumbing. So far, one 66-year-old man has been arrested in connection to the theft, which Cattelan described as "deadly serious if even a little bit surreal since the subject of the robbery was a toilet."
"At first, when they woke me up this morning with the news, I thought it was a prank: Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet?" Cattelan told the New York Times. "I had forgotten for a second that it was made out of gold.
"I wish it was a prank," Cattelan continued, promising that he "has an alibi." "'America' was the one percent for the 99 percent, and I hope it still is. I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action."
If it is, well, it was certainly quite the coup: If its 103 kilograms of gold were melted down, America is estimated to be worth at least $4 million alone. (Of course, that's without taking into account the forces of the art market nor the added value of its mythology).
There is, of course, still very much the chance that Cattelan, master prankster, actually did orchestrate the theft himself. But if not Cattelan, who did steal the golden toilet? A sneaky palace employee? The ghost of Winston Churchill? Trump's minions? ...Mary Boone? Or was it Cattelan's chief rival provocateur, Banksy?
We may never know, but hopefully, we'll at least get an answer to arguably the most pressing question: Where, exactly, is the toilet? Unfortunately, it sounds like it may have, well, gone down the toilet. "That is a very, very valuable toilet," Peter Pienta, an expert precious metals dealer, stressed to the Times. "If [the thieves] had a refinery or gold smelting equipment ready, it could be melted into gold bars in days and there would be no way to trace them. They could really go into any place that would buy a bullion."