The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters. Instead, wrote the curator Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles France with his dog.
“We are sorry not to be able to accommodate your original request, but remain hopeful that this special offer may be of interest.”It is common for presidents and first ladies to borrow major works of art to decorate the Oval Office, the first family’s residence and various rooms at the White House. The Smithsonian loaned the Kennedys a Eugène Delacroix painting, “The Smoker.” The Obamas preferred abstract art, choosing works by Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns.
The Guggenheims curator’s alternative to the WH request: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.
Cattelan’s “America” caused something of a sensation after the Guggenheim unveiled it in 2016, drawing more than a few headlines.“WE’RE NO. 1! (And No. 2)” was the New York Post’s front-page offering, the huge lettering over a photograph of the toilet. The tabloid’s coverage included a reporter’s first-person account (“I rode the Guggenheim’s golden throne”) and a photograph of that reporter seated on the toilet (reading the New York Post, naturally).
Cattelan has resisted interpreting his work, telling interviewers he would leave that to his audience. He conceived of the gold toilet before Trump’s candidacy, though he has acknowledged that he might have been influenced by the mogul’s almost unavoidable place in American culture.
When asked if the museums director Richard Armstrong supported the curator’s offer of the toilet to the White House, the Guggenheim’s spokeswoman replied, “We have nothing further to add.”
Spector, in blog posts and on social media, has made plain her political leanings. “This must be the first day of our revolution to take back our beloved country from hatred, racism, and intolerance,” the curator wrote on Instagram a day after Trump’s election in 2016. Her post was accompanied by a Robert Mapplethorpe photo of a frayed American flag. - Read More