According to The Washington Post, the White House asked the Guggenheim Museum in September if President Trump and the first lady could borrow "Landscape in the Snow," a painting by Vincent van Gogh, for display in their private quarters. The Guggenheim responded and said that, while the van Gogh piece was unavailable, the museum would be happy to lend Trump a golden toilet instead.
It's not just any golden toilet, though. The piece in question is actually an art installation by contemporary Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Titled "America," it was on display in the Guggenheim for a year in one of the museum's restrooms, and it was an interactive exhibit — that is, a functional toilet available for guests who either wanted to appreciate Cattelan's artistic vision to the fullest extent or, alternatively, just needed to use the bathroom.
"I'm afraid that after ["Landscape in the Snow"]'s showing abroad, it will need to remain on permanent view in our Thannhauser Galleries for the foreseeable future," the museum wrote the White House. "Fortunately, a marvelous work by the celebrated contemporary Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is coming off view today after a year's installation at the Guggenheim, and he would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan."
When The Washington Post contacted Cattelan for comment on the episode, he chuckled and said that "it's a very delicate subject." He was vague when asked specifically why he offered his artwork to the Trumps.
"What's the point of our life?" Cattelan said. "Everything seems absurd until we die, and then it makes sense."
There's good reason to suspect, however, that the president would appreciate a golden toilet. According to a Rolling Stone profile from 2015, Trump's personal plane has gold-plated seatbelt buckles and, more to the point, "bathroom fixtures finished in rosy gold." He's also been known to encrust his real estate properties with gold, such as the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Las Vegas.
That said, it's probably worth noting that Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim curator who extended the offer, is openly opposed to Trump, having written in a blog post stating that "in Trump’s America, the sustained assault on basic human and civil rights—the travel ban being only one example—calls for a decisive and unflinching response from the art community."
"America" was unveiled at the Guggenheim in 2016, and according to Spector, over 100,000 people waited in line "for the opportunity to commune with art and nature" once it was installed. According to The Post, there was a security guard on duty by the toilet — understandable, given that it's valued at over $1 million — and museum staff would use "specially chosen" wipes to clean it off every 15 minutes.
It's not unusual for presidents to borrow valuable pieces of art to display in the White House during their time in office. In October 2009, the Obamas selected 47 paintings from local museums, which were hung on the walls of offices and the private residence in the White House.
Cattelan's work often has a satirical bent. His 2008 piece "Daddy Daddy" depicted Pinocchio, the Disney character, laying face-down in a pool of water, while his 2000 installation "La Nona Ora" consisted of a life-size model of Pope John Paul II being struck down by down by a meteor. He rarely explains the meaning of his art, preferring to let the audience interpret it as they will; however, in a comment reported by the Guggenheim, he hinted that "America" might have something to do with wealth disparity in the United States.
"Whatever you eat — a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog — the results are the same, toilet-wise," Cattelan said.