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“The wait for Maurizio Cattelan’s “America” is approximately one hour from this point” is what the sign next to me read as I stood in line waiting to see a public bathroom. About 20% of the line stood ahead of me, with the other 80% behind me. Yes that’s right, hundreds of people queued up this morning, waiting for what seemed like hours to catch a glimpse — and maybe a use — of a public toilet. But this isn’t just any toilet — it’s made of solid gold.
Designed by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, this gold toilet is the newest exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Titled “America,” it’s meant to represent the luxuries of the 1%, offered freely (plus the $15 ticket to the museum) to the 99%.
The white plaque on the wall outside the bathroom read:
Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s bold, irreverent work skewers social complacencies and reimagines cultural icons. On the occasion of his 2011-12 retrospective at the Guggenheim, which featured virtually every work he had ever made suspended from the oculus of the rotunda, Cattelan announced his retirement from art making. Five years later, he returns from this self-imposed exile with a new, ongoing project at the museum. For “America” Cattelan replaced the toilet in this restroom with a fully functional replica cast in 18-karat gold, making available to the public an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the 1 percent. 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 a work of art. 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 realties of our shared humanity.
If you can’t make it to the Guggenheim, here’s a photo of the shiny golden throne so you can see it for yourself in all of its 18-karat glory.
Although the toilet technically replaces an already existing public restroom and is designed for use, don’t expect to actually get much time — or use — out of the piece if you decide to visit. When I went, two security guards stood menacingly close to the door to ensure you don’t take too long inside and weren’t attempting to mess with the exhibit. There’s no official statement on how long the piece will be up, but according to a curator, it should be around for at least three months. Oh, and Chase Private Clients can get in for free.
Have you seen (or used) the new golden toilet in New York?
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