LONDON (AP) — A solid gold toilet artwork, “America,” that mocked excessive wealth, was stolen early Saturday from an art exhibit at the magnificent home in England where British wartime leader Winston Churchill was born.
The toilet, valued at roughly 1 million pounds ($1.25 million), was the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. It had been installed only two days earlier at Blenheim Palace, west of London, after being shown to appreciative audiences at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Police said the toilet was taken early Saturday by thieves who used at least two vehicles. Because it had been connected to the palace’s plumbing system, police said the toilet’s removal caused “significant damage and flooding” to the building, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with valuable art and furniture.
A 66-year-old man was arrested, but he has not been identified or charged.
Inspector Richard Nicholls from Thames Valley Police said police believe the thieves left the property at about 4:50 a.m. and the toilet was the only item taken. Closed-circuit TV footage is being studied.
Before the theft, visitors to the Cattelan exhibition could book a 3-minute appointment to use the toilet. This had proved popular when the toilet was on display at the Guggenheim.
The artist intended the golden toilet to be a pointed satire about excessive wealth. Cattelan has said: “Whatever you eat, a $200 lunch or a $2 hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”
Last year, the chief curator at the Guggenheim offered to lend the golden toilet to President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump when they asked to borrow a Van Gogh painting for their private White House quarters. Curator Nancy Spector has been critical of Trump in social media.
Saturday’s theft also comes after Edward Spencer-Churchill told The Times newspaper that the golden toilet would not be easy to steal since it was connected to the palace’s plumbing.
“So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it,” he said.
Thames Valley Police Detective Inspector Jess Milne said: “The artwork has not been recovered at this time but we are conducting a thorough investigation to find it and bring those responsible to justice.”
Blenheim Palace said officials are “saddened” by the theft but “relieved no one was hurt.”
“We knew there was huge interest in the Maurizio Cattelan contemporary art exhibition, with many set to come and enjoy the installations,” the palace said in a tweet. “It’s therefore a great shame an item so precious has been taken, but we still have so many fascinating treasures in the Palace and the remaining items of the exhibition to share.”
The building was closed to the public Saturday but the palace said normal operations would resume Sunday.
The stately home in Oxfordshire, 65 miles west of London, is popular with visitors and is occasionally used for special events, such as fashion shows and art exhibits.