An 18-karat gold toilet titled "America" was set to make its debut in New York City’s Upper East Side Guggenheim Museum last week, but the dubbed work of art is having technical difficulties forcing a delayed unveiling.
The fully functional toilet, designed as a Kohler replica, will be installed in a private, unisex bathroom intended to be used or admired by museum visitors.
The Italian artist behind "America," Maurizio Cattelan, told the New York Times last month that people can enter the tiled room, complete with a sink and mirror, "just to bask in [the toilet’s] glow…but it becomes an artwork only with someone sitting on it or standing over it, answering nature’s call."
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The Guggenheim announced the toilet’s intended display last month, crediting the museum’s former deputy director Nancy Spector with organizing the exhibit.
"The new work makes available to the public an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the 1 percent," the museum’s press release read. "Its participatory nature, in which viewers are invited to make use of the fixture individually and privately, allows for an experience of unprecedented intimacy with an artwork. Cattelan’s toilet offers a wink to the excesses of the art market, but also evokes the American dream of opportunity for all, its utility ultimately reminding us of the inescapable physical realities of our shared humanity."
Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wrote of the announcement:
This isn’t a parody of pompous, self-congratulatory artspeak; the people who write this gibberish consider it enlightening, discerning cultural commentary. Why this "fixture" is "seemingly intended" for the 1 percent is not obvious. But, if anyone should recognize the 1 percent it’s Spector and the Guggenheim, an institution founded and supported by the fattest of the fat cats, a veritable parade of Daddy Warlocks…It seems Armstrong had no worries a toilet entitled America might offend many Americans visiting the Guggenheim, even though his museum's donors benefit from being able to deduct contributions to a not-for-profit organization from their taxable income. The Guggenheim also receives support from US taxpayers through federal grants, though America was purchased with private funds (the museum won’t reveal its cost).
The Guggenheim receives a portion of its funding through federal grants, but the toilet was bought with private funds. The price of "America" is unclear.
Spector told the New York Times that "the Occupy movement and growing concerns over the concentration of wealth immediately came to mind" when Cattelan pitched the toilet idea to the museum.
"I think this is going to enter into that discourse, and we have to be prepared for the reactions that people are going to have to it," she said.
When the Guggenheim’s director Richard Armstrong caught wind of the project, he immediately told Spector to "Do it."
"America" is intended to serve as a "historical gesture" giving a nod to Marcel Duchamp’s iconic toilet sculpture, "Fountain."
The Guggenheim said the toilet also alludes to Piero Manzoni’s "Artist’s Shit," where Manzoni "canned his own excrement and sold each container at a price equal to its weight in gold."