A solid gold toilet on display at Bleinheim Palace was stolen in the early hours of Saturday morning (14 September 2019).
The 18-carat lavatory is a work by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Called ‘America’, it was plumbed into the water system at Blenheim Palace so visitors could book a three-minute slot to use it for its intended purpose. Valued at approximately £4.8 million, the golden loo formed part of a new exhibition by Cattelan at Bleinheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and country home of the Duke of Marlborough. It was installed in a small stall adjacent to Churchill’s birthing room just off the Great Hall and near the main entrance to the palace.
Police believe the culprits used two vehicles to carry off the daring heist, which left “significant damage and flooding”. They took off with the golden throne around 4.50am, mere hours after a launch party for Cattelan’s exhibition on Friday night (13 September 2019). Police arrested a 66-year-old man in connection with the incident, but the golden toilet remains missing. There are concerns it may already have been melted down.
Only last month, Edward Spencer-Churchill, the half-brother of the current Duke of Marlborough, told the Sunday Times he thought the toilet was “not going to be the easiest thing to nick”. Not only was the toilet plumbed in but he also reasoned that “a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it”.
Bleinheim Palace’s Chief Executive, Dominic Hare, told the BBC that the theft was unprecedented in the history of the stately home, which is guarded by a “sophisticated security system”. He conceded that “what has happened… so clearly we need to challenge ourselves on that”.
Considered a “conceptual art clown”, Cattelan’s tongue-in-cheek works have tickled fans the world over. There were queues at the Guggenheim in New York where ‘America’ was displayed in 2016 and was famously offered on loan to President Donald Trump by the Guggenheim’s chief curator. Cattelan’s latest show at Bleinheim includes a carpet of enormous union jacks in the palace courtyard, a stuffed horse suspended from the ceiling of a room filled with oil paintings and a model of Adolf Hitler as a kneeling child before a pipe organ.
With the memory of Banksy’s shredder stunt still looming large, some wonder whether a similar act of tomfoolery is at play. The prankster artist insists he is not behind the smash-and-grab raid. “I wish it was a prank”, he wrote in an email to The New York Times. “America’ was the 1% for the 99%, and I hope it still is”, Cattelan added, “I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action”.