Image via the Guggenheim Museum
We already know there are some pretty quirky public restrooms in New York City, but did you know there’s a solid gold toilet inside the Guggenheim Museum, ready for use? The 18-karat functioning toilet, called America, has been sitting in a Guggenheim restroom for almost a year, an unusual creation by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. However, the toilet will only be there until September 15th, so stop by and use it while you can (seriously, when will you ever have this chance again?)
The sculpture, modeled after a Kohler toilet, was installed in the restroom on the fifth-floor ramp of the museum last September, available for use by anyone who felt nature’s calling and assuring an “unprecedented intimacy with an artwork.” You’ll find that the toilet is protected by security guards, who will answer any questions you have about using it. And to ensure the toilet stays clean, the museum also has a cleaning process involving steam and some specialized wipes.
Image via Kris McKay/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
Despite the seemingly facetious nature of the toilet, Cattelan, a 55-year-old artist from Milan known for his expensive work, hoped that New Yorkers would take it seriously, both as a lavish gift to Guggenheim visitors and a work of art drawing attention to economic inequality and wealth of the artistic world. Occupy Wall Street and growing attention to the concentration of wealth in America’s richest hands helped prompt the museum to install the piece, hoping that museum-goers would find themselves attracted to it for those reasons.
“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,” the Guggenheim said in a press release.
The name was inspired by Kafka’s novel Amerika.
Image via the Guggenheim Museum
Cattelan isn’t the first artist to attempt a toilet with artistic merit in New York City—in 1917, Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal called “Fountain” to a New York exhibit, which Cattelan’s toilet was meant to reference 100 years later. The toilet also alludes to Piero Manzoni’s series Artist’s Shit (1961), in which Manzoni supposedly canned his own excrement and sold each container at a price equal to its weight in gold.
In the works since April 2016, Cattelan planned for the toilet to be a kind of return to making three-dimensional artwork after his temporary 2011 retirement. It’s also an extension of the picture magazine he founded, Toilet Paper.
Maurizio Cattelan. Image via the Guggenheim Museum
Like some of the world’s greatest masterpieces, the toilet took time and effort to create. It was supposed to arrive months before September, but it took longer than expected to weld and mold the gold at a foundry in Florence, Italy. After arriving at the Guggenheim, like any other toilet, it needed the handy work of a plumber to make it usable.
Michael Zall, the museum’s associate director of facilities operations, lightheartedly said the plumber did it “with some butterflies in his stomach.”
He told The New York Times, “If he was ever a regular plumber, he’s not anymore.”
The toilet took Instagram by storm, with users taking selfies on it, including Cattelan himself.