The White House asked the Guggenheim Museum to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for use in President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump’s private quarters. They were offered, instead, a golden toilet.
They Washington Post reported Thursday that curator Nancy Spector responded to White House staffer Donna Hayashi Smith’s request with a counter-offer: “America,” by the conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan — “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by the Post.
The toilet was installed for visitor use in the Guggenheim for nearly a year, according to the museum, a commentary on America’s glittering excesses, stood — or sat — in contrast to what makes us all human.
“It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care,” Spector added, noting that Cattelan “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan.”
The artist told the Post, “It’s a very delicate subject.” Asked about his offer to the Trumps, he wondered aloud “[w]hat’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.”
The museum says in its description of the work: “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 realities of our shared humanity.”
The White House did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.