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

Last week, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City abruptly entered the political fray when a Washington Post report revealed that when approached by the Trump White House about borrowing a Vincent van Gogh work, the institution’s chief curator Nancy Spector instead offered up “America,” Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet. The backlash came swiftly, in the form of a wave of negative reviews of the museum on social media — including Yelp and Facebook — and a fiery segment from Fox Business Network anchor Stuart Varney.

“I suppose you could dismiss this as kind of tongue-in-cheek humor, but I don’t take it that way, and I don’t think most Americans will be amused,” Varney says in the short segment embedded below. “It is in fact a direct insult to the President and the first lady. It was a deliberate insult. Ms. Spector is one of the elites, and she detests this president.”

Varney ignores the fact the many of the “elites” — even those who collect art and support major museums — are Trump major supporters. He concludes his short segment by calling on Spector to resign: “It’s not just a slap in the face for the Trumps, it is a slap in the face for the presidency and to the country. If Ms. Spector truly believes in ‘our beloved country,’ as she puts it, she should apologize and resign.”

A spokesperson from the Guggenheim reached by Hyperallergic declined to comment on Varney’s segment or the other responses to Spector’s exchange with the White House Office of the Curator.

Varney’s screed is a polite version of some of the things that Facebook, Yelp, and Instagram users have been posting on the Guggenheim’s pages. “Your golden toilet pretty much encapsulates the attitudes of you elitist snobs, pretty crappy!” writes one Facebook user. A Yelp user from Alaska left a particularly potty-centric, one-star review: “Horrible visit. All of their toilets were simple and plain. The only one worth using was offered to POTUS in a disgraceful, unfunny post.” According to a notice on the Guggenheim’s Yelp page, recent reviews are being evaluated and may be deleted because they are “motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.”

In an effort to counteract the animosity directed at Spector and the Guggenheim, many supporters of the curator and institution have been posting messages of support as well. “Good job Nancy Spector, I applaud you for the toilet proposition,” writes one Facebook user. “Btw don’t pay attention to the negative comments here … You are not alone … And most importantly… You deserve an ? for standing up … And CRITICIZING … A real MONSTER… Thank you.” Another user is similarly laudatory: “Well done. Expert level trolling. So many tears from hypocrites.”

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...