An Exclusive Interview with Maurizio Cattelan About the Blenheim Palace Heist
"I wish the loo could give interviews by itself," Cattelan says. "Being the press office for a toilet can be kind of depressing."
Photo by Tom Lindboe, Courtesy Blenheim Art Foundation
In 2016, the artist Maurizio Cattelan installed a toilet at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It wasn't just a regular toilet, of course, but one made of solid gold. The catch is, unlike other works of art at the museum that you aren't supposed to touch, this one was installed in one of the bathrooms and the public was invited to er, use it, just like they would any other toilet. The name of the work? America.
From the start, it was obvious America, was going to have a special kind of life, a special kind of legacy. One need not be reminded what happened in the country in that year, or whom's personal taste leaned towards gilded everything—we're not even getting into the subtext yet. When the White House requested the museum loan them a van Gogh, the museum cheekily said, no, but you can have this gold toilet instead. The White House did not respond.
The toilet then moved to the UK, and found a home at the Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, on the occasion of a solo exhibition at the Blenheim Art Foundation entitled Victory is Not an Option, which featured some of Cattelan's most iconic pieces. On September 14, the unthinkable happened. The toilet was stolen. A heist! GARAGE spoke exclusively to Cattelan about the events of that fateful day, his suspicions, and whether or not this makes the work more meaningful.
Where were you when you found out the toilet was stolen?
It was early in the morning and I was still asleep at The Broken Arm Inn when Michael [Frahm], who is responsible for the whole show, called me with the news.
What was your first thought upon hearing the news?
My first thought was that it was a prank. It took me a while, after a few checks, to come to the conclusion that it was true and that it wasn’t a surreal movie where, instead of the jewels of the crown, the thieves went away with a bloody toilet!
Do you think "America" is now more American because it was stolen?
The American Dream is still there to be chased and longed for as long we dream about money. Remember: no matter how expensive your meal, when you go to the toilet, golden or not, everything looks the same.
Do you have any idea who the thief might be?
There are several speculations but, so far, none of them have been strong leads. There are many rumors about a famous gang very active in the area, specialized in villas, but they have never done Blenheim before. Personally, I believe the cook and Miss Scarlett are the main suspects, but Professor Plum and the butler have a very weak alibi, too.
Do you have a wish for who the thief should be?
Dear Thieves, if you are reading this, I hope you’re not wearing Nikes and that your pusher serves you first quality stuff. How the hell was the party was after the job, and how many days did it last, and what is the joke about your heist? Please let me know how much you like the piece, and how does it feel peeing on gold?
Did you ever expect your work to be part of a heist?
I had many works vandalized or, by mistake, thrown into the garbage, but never experienced before the “loss” of one of them. To be part of a movie it’s kind of new to me. I wish the loo could give interviews by itself. Being the press office for a toilet can be kind of depressing.
Do you now wish that the toilet had ended up in Trump's White House?
Maybe Blenheim is not the White House, but still a place with a lot of history and a fair amount of ghosts. America was installed in Churchill’s bathroom, a very humble place considering the size of the Palace. And if you find yourself in trouble, just follow what Sir Winston said: if you’re going through hell, keep going.
Do you wish they'd stolen another work instead of “America”?
Do I wish to have my house set on fire instead of having my car stolen? None of the two, if I may!
Editor's Note: This article was edited after publication to protect information that is currently under investigation.