Guggenheim Museum Unveils Solid Gold Toilet Installation

January 18, 2017

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“America,” a solid gold sculpture now on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, must be cleaned every 15 minutes using special wipes. Janitorial staff also steam clean the toilet periodically. Photo courtesy of Kris McKay, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

“America,” a solid gold sculpture now on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, must be cleaned every 15 minutes using special wipes. Janitorial staff also steam clean the toilet periodically. Photo courtesy of Kris McKay, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Most museums that showcase priceless works of art enforce a strictly “hands-off” policy. But a new installation at the New York City Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum offers visitors a unique, intimate, one-on-one chance to engage with art.

“America” by Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan is a fully functional toilet cast in 18-karat solid gold. Since the installation’s unveiling on Sept. 16, the interactive work of art has taken the place of one of the museum’s single-unit restrooms on the fifth floor.

Full use of the costly commode not only is allowed but encouraged. In preparation for the exhibit’s opening, Cattelan joked that the piece is “1% art for the 99%,” according to a Guggenheim blog post.

It may come as no surprise that the sculpture attracts more attention from guests than other toilets. With consistently high demand during visiting hours, keeping the installation’s solid gold surface pristine is a full-time job, said May Yeung, publicist for the Guggenheim.

“Someone from our regular cleaning staff comes by every 15 minutes,” Yeung said. “It is cleaned with special wipes, like medical wipes, that don’t have any fragrance, color, or oxidizers.”

As reported by Artsy.net, museum-goers turned out in droves to give “America” a try during opening week. Queue lines consistently featured dozens of guests and wait times of up to 2 hours with reactions ranging from dismissal to fascination, the article says.

During opening week, excited Guggenheim museum visitors waited to use “America,” a new, fully functional toilet cast in solid gold by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Photo courtesy of McKay, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

During opening week, excited Guggenheim museum visitors waited to use “America,” a new, fully functional toilet cast in solid gold by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Photo courtesy of McKay, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

“This is a bathroom highlight for me — the only other toilet that absolutely stands out in my mind is the one at the top of the Eiffel Tower,” said Annie McLaughlin in the Artsy.net article. Tom McLaughlin said in the article, “The top of One World Trade Center was memorable, too. We go to the bathroom in really high places because we have no idea how it gets down to the sewers.”

While “America” is sure to incite conversation and controversy, it is not the first lavatory to attract attention in the art world. Cattelan told the Guggenheim that he was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” a 1917 sculpture that takes the form of an ordinary urinal. While that sculpture was not a functional toilet, “America” is ready and able to continue accommodating users. The exhibition is ongoing and currently does not have a set end-date, Yeung said.

— Justin Jacques, WEF Highlights

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