Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-karat gold functional toilet, a sculpture titled America (2016), was stolen on Saturday from Blenheim Palace, a historic site in Oxfordshire, England.
The theft caused significant damage and flooding to the palace, according to a report by The Guardian. A 66-year-old man was arrested in connection with the crime, and subsequently released on police bail. Police remain on the hunt for the toilet, which has not been recovered.
In a statement provided to Artsy, Detective Inspector Jess Milne said:
We are still actively searching for the stolen piece of artwork and there will be a continued police presence in and around the palace while this search continues. We believe a group of people used at least two vehicles during the burglary, which was reported to Thames Valley Police at 4:57 a.m. on Saturday.
Cattelan, who has nurtured a reputation as an art world jokester, insisted the theft was not a prank of his own devising. He told the New York Times:
I wish it was a prank. [. . .] At first, when they woke me up this morning with the news, I thought it was a prank: Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet? I had forgotten for a second that it was made out of gold.
In a statement, he added: “I always liked heist movies and finally I’m in one of them.”
Different reports have put the value of the sculpture at anywhere from £1 million ($1.2 million) to between $5 million and $6 million. According to Peter Pienta, a precious metals dealer consulted by the Times, based on the weight of the work and the current value of gold, America could be worth upwards of $4 million if it were melted down. Pienta added:
That is a very, very valuable toilet [. . .] If they had a refinery or gold smelting equipment ready, it could be melted into gold bars in days and there would be no way to trace them. They could really go into any place that would buy a bullion.
The gold toilet sculpture was installed at Blenheim Palace as part of a major show of Cattelan’s work at the historic home. The cheeky sculpture made its debut at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2016, where it sparked long lines of visitors eager for their moment on the priceless potty. It was plunged into political drama in early 2018, when it was revealed that Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector had refused the Trump administration’s request to borrow a Vincent van Gogh painting for the White House, offering to loan them only the golden toilet instead.
Thames Valley Police in London has arrested a second suspect in the theft of Maurizio Cattelan’s “America” (2016) from Blenheim Palace. A 36-year-old man from the British town of Cheltenham was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle and had been released under investigation, the police said. The first suspect, a 66-year-old man who was arrested on the day of the theft, was released on bail until October.