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Nature Calls: Blenheim Palace Gives Thieves a Golden Opportunity to Steal Cattelan’s Toilet

Q: How do you invite thieves to steal a famous, expensive, publicly exhibited artwork?

A: Publicly announce that no guards are protecting it.

That strange-but-true scenario played out very early yesterday morning at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. In talking last August about plans for a Maurizio Cattelan show, Victory Is Not an Option (which opened on Thursday), Edward Spencer-Churchill, founder of the five-year old Blenheim Art Foundation, blithely informed the Sunday Times that Cattelan’s infamous 18-karat toilet, “America,” was “not going to be the easiest thing to nick [Brit-slang for “steal”]….So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it [emphasis added].”

Maurizio Cattelan, “America,” 2016, as seen at Guggenheim Museum’s well-guarded 2016 retrospective
Photograph by Lee Rosenbaum

No guards?!? Cue the burglars…

I got my first alert yesterday morning about “America’s” unauthorized (and sloppy) deinstallation when I saw this request sent to me via Twitter by a British journalist, preceded by my introductory video clip (which you can click on):

Wait. What?

After rubbing my eyes to make sure I wasn’t still dreaming, I found this Blenheim Palace announcement on Twitter:

Here it is, as seen while installed at the palace (a more appropriately posh setting for it than the Guggenheim, at top):

Acccording to a report in the Telegraph:

Police have arrested a 66-year-old man in connection with the theft, but confirmed that the golden toilet is still missing and that there was “significant damage and flooding.”

Contacted by the NY Times, Cattelan, an incorrigible prankster, flatly denied that he had orchestrated his toilet’s disappearance. One depressingly plausible scenario: eliminating the evidence by melting it down for bullion—some $4 million’s worth, according to an estimate provided to the Times’ Kaly Soto by dealer Peter Pienta of Northshore Numismatics.

Closed yesterday for the post-theft investigation (and for a cleanup of the mess created by yanking out a functioning toilet), the exhibition (to Oct. 27) reopened today.

It includes another notorious work. Here’s the version of that creepy sculpture, which raised eyebrows at Christie’s when offered for sale in 2016:

Mauricio Cattelan, “Him,” 2001
Photo: Christie’s

For now, it appears that good taste got the better of Hornall, the British journalist, who opted not to disseminate the splashy video of my own golden excretions. His and Caitlin Doherty‘s report on the theft for PA Media (a UK news and sports agency) instead featured a clip starring Thames Valley Police Inspector Richard Nicholls.

The deadpan solemnity of the officer’s performance, backed by the Thames Valley Police’s Latin motto—Sit Pax in Valle Tamesis (Let there be Peace in the Thames Valley)—would probably appeal to Cattelan’s taste for the absurd:

Then again, the fact that said toilet was part of an art exhibition may well have triggered Nicholls’ own sense of absurdity.

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