In Brief

Trumps Wanted a van Gogh for the White House But Were Offered a Gold Toilet

When Donald and Melania Trump requested a Vincent van Gogh painting from the Guggenheim, the museum responded with a counteroffer.

Maurizio Cattelan, “America” (2016), gold (photo by Carey Dunne/Hyperallergic)

Last year, Donald and Melania Trump asked the Guggenheim Museum if they could “borrow” a painting by Vincent van Gogh to hang in the White House, the Washington Post reports. The museum declined. Instead, it offered Maurizio Cattelan’s “America”: a functioning toilet cast in 18-karat gold.

The toilet had been installed on the museum’s fourth floor for one year, attracting hours-long lines and much fanfare. The toilet was deinstalled last September, around the time when curator Nancy Spector decided to respond to the President’s request.

In an email sent on September 15 and obtained by the Washington Post, Spector wrote that Cattelan “would like to offer it [‘America’] to the White House for a long-term loan.” She elaborated, “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.” The email was addressed to Donna Hayashi Smith of the White House’s Office of the Curator.

As for the piece the Trumps wanted, van Gogh’s “Landscape with Snow” (1888), Spector wrote that it was “prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions,” and was slated to be displayed at the museum’s Bilbao location, after which the painting would remain in New York “for the foreseeable future.”

“It’s a very delicate subject,” Cattelan told the Washington Post, when asked about his offer to the Trumps. “What’s the point of our life? Everything seems absurd until we die and then it makes sense.” Spector declined to offer comment to the Washington Post, and the White House did not respond.

A toilet on Hollywood Boulevard (courtesy Art Finksters)
A toilet on Hollywood Boulevard (courtesy Art Finksters)

One wonders if Cattelan and the museum took inspiration from the anonymous collective Art Finksters, who, on Trump’s 100th day in office, installed golden toilets around the United States bearing the message “Take a Trump!” and the image of a crown-wearing pig. Both projects share in their mockery of a gaudy, all-gold aesthetic that Trump seems quite fond of — from the gold plating on his airplane to the golden detailing outside his New York penthouse.

Last August, Spector wrote an article for the Guggenheim blog titled “Maurizio Cattelan’s Golden Toilet in the Time of Trump,” in which she acknowledges the President has now become “synonymous with golden toilets.” And, in September 2016, when “America” had just been installed, a different Guggenheim curator, Caitlin Dover, wrote that the “aesthetics of this ‘throne’ recall nothing so much as the gilded excess of Trump’s real-estate ventures and private residences.” (This throne also had its own security guard inspecting it after each visit, and a cleaning crew cleaning the receptacle every 20 minutes.)

As Carey Dunne for Hyperallergic observed pre-election — and after waiting for two hours to use Cattelan’s golden toilet — “‘America’ is an epic troll. Under the specter of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump … it also seems like a dark omen.”

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