The Guggenheim is installing a functional Gold Toilet

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The Guggenheim is installing a functional Gold Toilet
An image created by the artist Maurizio Cattelan of his solid-gold toilet / © Maurizio Cattelan
The Guggenheim is installing a functional Gold Toilet
An image created by the artist Maurizio Cattelan of his solid-gold toilet / © Maurizio Cattelan

… in 2011, Maurizio Cattelan — one of the most expensive living artists, then at the peak of his career and the subject of an uproarious retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum — told the world that he was finished, fatigued both creatively and by the velocity of the money-fueled art world. During the last couple of years, though, Mr. Cattelan found himself itching to make things in three dimensions again. “Actually, it’s even more of a torture not to work than to work,” he said in an interview. And so he is coming out of retirement with a new sculpture that seems designed to proclaim his return with an exclamation point, though the piece is of modest size and will not be on view in a public gallery.

It will, instead, be installed in early May just off one of the ramps of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, in a small, humble room where visitors often feel the urge to spend some time alone. The room has tiles, a sink, a mirror and a lock on the door. And now, instead of its standard Kohler toilet, it will have a solid 18-karat-gold working replica of one, a preposterously scatological apotheosis of wealth whose form is completed in its function: You could go into the restroom just to bask in its glow, Mr. Cattelan said, but it becomes an artwork only with someone sitting on it or standing over it, answering nature’s call.

“There’s the risk that people will think of it as a joke, maybe, but I don’t see it as a joke,” he added, on a recent trip from his home in Milan to New York, where he lived for many years. Mr. Cattelan, who grew up poor in Padua, Italy, the son of a truck driver and a cleaning woman, was asked if economic inequality figured into his thinking about the piece. “I was born in a condition where I was — how do you say? — forced to think about that. It’s not my job to tell people what a work means. But I think people might see meaning in this piece.” […]

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