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Italian artist’s €5 million gold toilet stolen in England

A gang of thieves on Saturday stole an 18-carat gold toilet by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan from an art exhibition at Britain's Blenheim Palace.

Italian artist's €5 million gold toilet stolen in England
The work, dubbed 'America' has been offered on loan to US President Donald Trump. Photo: William Edwards/AFP
The fully-functioning piece by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, dubbed “America”, was once displayed at New York's Guggenheim museum and offered on loan to US President Donald Trump.
   
A 66-year-old man has been arrested over the theft at the 18th-century stately home in Oxfordshire, which caused flooding at the World Heritage Site.
 
 
“The offenders broke into the palace overnight and left the scene at about 4.50 am. No-one was injured during the burglary,” local police said.
   
Detective Inspector Jess Milne said: “The piece of art that has been stolen is a high-value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace. Due to the toilet being plumbed into the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding. We believe a group of offenders used at least two vehicles during the offence.
   
“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.”
 
Cattelan told the New York Times that when he first heard news of the theft, he hoped it was a prank.
 
“Who's so stupid to steal a toilet? I had forgotten for a second that it was made out of gold,” he said, adding: “I wish it was a prank.”
 

Maurizio Cattelan's gold toilet, 'America'. Photo: William Edwards/AFP
 
Cattelan has described the 18-carat gold work as “one-percent art for the 99 percent”.
 
“I hope it still is. I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action,” he said, referring to the character of English folklore who stole from the rich to give to the poor.
 
Blenheim Palace chief executive Dominic Hare meanwhile revealed that the toilet, which was only put on display at the English stately home on Thursday, had been valued at around $5 to $6 million.
 
He told the BBC that the palace, the birthplace of wartime leader Winston Churchill and a UNESCO World Heritage site, had a sophisticated security system. But he added: “Clearly we need to challenge ourselves on that.”
 
He also said it was “not out of the question [that it] would be melted down” by the thieves.
 

Maurizio Cattelan. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

The toilet was one of the star attractions in an exhibition of Cattelan's works, with visitors able to book three-minute time slots to use it.
 
When the work was on display at New York's Guggenheim museum, more than 100,000 people lined up to use the loo during the course of a year.

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ART

Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

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