An Act of Art: The Guggenheim’s Generous Offer to Trump

The President asked for a Van Gogh painting. He was offered a toilet instead.

You’ve probably heard by now, and if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat – the President of the United States of America requested a Van Gogh painting. The Guggenheim offered him a toilet. A solid gold, fully-functioning crapper.

The implications of this generous offer are many and wonderful. That Trump cannot be trusted with a priceless old painting, the 1888 ‘Landscape with Snow’, is implicit. That his art style is more in sync with shiny stuff and sewage than traditionally celebrated painting skills is fairly explicit. That Trump’s White House, and by extension America, would be well represented by a golden loo is screaming through countless news headlines.

The piece in question, an 18-carat gold flushing toilet, was created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan in 2016, and was available for public use as part of an exhibition at the Guggenheim. Visitors to the museum could use the golden facilities as they would any other toilet in the place, whilst contemplating the class distinctions and wealth disparities in the USA today. Oh, and the title of the artwork? Rather appropriately, ‘America’.

Modern art is something that people often struggle to understand, but ‘America’ is a perfect example of something we can all see the real world reflected in. The artwork itself is a clever combination of symbolism, juxtaposing of the excesses of the USA’s top 1% with the severe issues in the country today. A toilet is also a great leveller – no matter who you are and what you eat, as Cattelan says, “the results are the same, toilet-wise”.

According to, Cattelan had begun formulating the idea for ‘America’ before Trump became a serious candidate for the presidency, but its design is clearly representative of Trump’s America. Not only is Trump himself strongly associated with an overabundance of gold, but the prevalence of many regressive and damaging policies introduced and pushed for by the President and his party during their year in power is arguably strongly symbolic of the country going ‘down the drain’.

Symbolism is central to art, particularly more modern or abstract pieces. The symbolism in ‘America’ is plain, but so is that in the Guggenheim’s suggestion. This generous offer is itself an act of art, utilising an appropriately unusual artwork, a situation perfectly set up, and the near-universal associations with Trump the public visualises.

The fact that ‘America’ could just as easily be named ‘Trump’s America’, or ‘The President’s Bog’, or even ‘Donald’s Trump’ (ok, bad pun, sorry) says a lot about the state of the USA, the Republican Party, and the Presidency today. It also suggests a lot about how pervasive politics is within public institutions in the United States – although an arguably subtle gesture (not an argument I’m making), the Guggenheim’s highly publicised offer is definitely political, with implications immediately noticeable and impossible to deny.

A year into Trump’s first (and hopefully, only) term, this act of art on behalf of the Guggenheim says it all.

Marigold Goldman

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image use license here.

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