'I wish it was a prank': Artist behind £4.8m golden toilet denies orchestrating theft from Churchill's birthplace

'I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action'

Peter Stubley
Sunday 15 September 2019 17:53
Police on hunt for toilet thieves after after golden loo stolen from Blenheim Palace

The creator of the solid gold toilet stolen from Blenheim Palace has denied orchestrating its theft in a Banksy-style prank.

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, who said he intended the 18-carat commode to be “one per cent art for the 99 per cent”, has a history of mischievous stunts.

However, he insisted the removal of his £4.8m work America from the birthplace of Winston Churchill is not one of them.

“I wish it was a prank,” he told The New York Times. “Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet? I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action.”

The theft of the toilet reminded some sceptics of Banksy’s artwork Girl with a Balloon, which shredded itself moments after being sold for £1m last October.

Mr Cattelan is also known to have stolen the whole show of another artist at a gallery in Amsterdam in 1996. He then tried to pass off the exhibition as his own work.

Despite police being called, he was allowed to continue the display for several days.

The artist said at the time that the theft was a “survival tactic” after he was given only two weeks to produce work for his exhibit.

”I took the path of least resistance,” he added. ”It was the quickest and easiest thing to do.”

The golden toilet was created in 2016 for the New York Guggenheim museum, where it was used by more than 100,000 visitors. It was installed at Blenheim Palace as the centrepiece of an exhibition which started last week.

Dominic Hare, the palace's chief executive, described the theft of the toilet as “a very fast smash-and-grab raid”.

Thames Valley Police believe a gang of thieves using at least two vehicles to carry out the burglary in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The force said ”significant damage and flooding” was caused when the plumbed-in toilet was ripped out of a wood-panelled room at the stately home in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

Detectives said on Sunday they were still trying to trace the artwork. A 66-year-old man remains in custody for questioning.

“We are following a number of lines of enquiry and there will continue to be a police presence in and around the area of Blenheim Palace while our investigations continue,” ​said Detective Inspector Jess Milne. “We are making every effort to locate the offenders and the toilet that was stolen.”

While initial reports suggested the golden toilet worth more than £1m, Mr Hare said it had been valued at around $6m (£4.8m).

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‘’’When you show the finest art to everyone, to the audience it was made for, you take a risk,” said Mr Hare in a statement. “Almost always that risk is worth taking. We say that even today. It is deeply ironic that a work of art portraying the American Dream and the idea of an elite object made available to all should be almost instantly snatched away and hidden from view.

“We hope that the wonderful work of our dear friend Maurizio Cattelan becomes immortalised by this stupid and pointless act.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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