the art of the shade

White House Asks Guggenheim for a Van Gogh, Gets Offered a Golden Toilet

Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

There are a lot of perks that come with being president. One of them is that you can ask world-renowned galleries to let you borrow art. The Obamas had works on loan from Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns, and the Kennedys had a Eugène Delacroix piece from the Smithsonian. The White House made a request to the Guggenheim last year about getting Vincent van Gogh’s Landscape With Snow for their private residence at the White House, but according to the Washington Post, museum curator Nancy Spector had to inform the first couple it wouldn’t be possible. Landscape is “prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions,” she told them — and it was also on its way to the Guggenheim’s museum in Bilboa, Spain, at the time — but there was a newly available work she could offer as a substitute. Maurizio Cattelan’s America, a fully functional 18-karat-gold toilet, was ending its yearlong run as a publicly available piece of plumbing in a fifth-floor bathroom, and with the artist’s permission, she was happy to offer it to the White House.

Spector’s email to the White House’s Office of the Curator, obtained by the Post, explained that America is “of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.” Any possible subtext aside, offering Donald Trump a solid-gold toilet is not the craziest idea, since he is notably obsessed with the precious metal. He redesigned the presidential challenge coin to be bigger and golder than any of its predecessors. His buildings are often aggressively gold. He put gold curtains in the Oval Office and painted the walls gold, too. So really, it sounds like a generous offer from Spector, who concluded her rejection email to the White House by saying, “We are sorry not to be able to accommodate your original request, but remain hopeful that this special offer may be of interest.”

Museum Offers White House Golden Toilet Instead of Van Gogh