Who Really Stole Maurizio Cattelan’s Gold Toilet?

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet made history when it was shamelessly stolen from England’s Blenheim Palace. But who took it?

Sep 21, 2022By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

 maurizio cattelan's gold toilet


Contemporary Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is a prankster and troublemaker, and his art has attracted huge amounts of press attention, both good and bad. None more so, perhaps, than the artist’s fully functional toilet made from 103 kg of solid, 18-carat gold. Called America, the artwork is a satirical commentary on art, money, greed and capitalism. In 2016, Cattelan installed his lavish toilet in the fifth-floor bathroom of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, allowing visitors to make use of it freely. A year later, Cattelan tried to give the toilet to Donald Trump and the White House, but Trump said no. Instead, in 2019, Cattelan’s gold toilet made its way to the grand Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, the former family home of Winston Churchill.


Unfortunately, the artwork was in Blenheim for a matter of days, before a gang of criminals ripped it out of the stately home and bundled it into a getaway van. But who stole Catellan’s gold toilet, and how did they do it?


Police Made Several Arrests

maurizio catellan's gold toilet
left: Maurizio Cattelan sitting on his gold toilet, ‘America’ at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Right: Cattelan’s America installed at Blenheim Palace, via ARTNews


In the years since thieves stole Cattelan’s gold toilet, police have arrested seven different suspects, but with no formal charges. One of these was a 66-year-old man, who police arrested not long after the incident occurred. Although Police still don’t know who took Cattelan’s gold toilet, they believe it was a criminal gang, with “at least” two getaway vehicles. The gang broke into the palace overnight and had to rip the toilet from the wood paneled palace walls, which would have required a fair amount of physical effort. They left behind significant damage and flooding.


Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, founder of the Blenheim Art Foundation points out, “it’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick. Firstly, it’s plumbed in, and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate.” Then there’s also the physical weight of the solid metal toilet, which would no doubt need serious manpower to get it out of the building.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


Criminals Might Have Destroyed Cattelan’s Gold Toilet

maurizio catellan america blenheim palace
Installation view of Maurizio Cattelan’s America, 2016, as part of the exhibition titled Victory is Not an Option at Blenheim Palace, 2019. Photo by Tom Lin, via Artsy


It seems likely that thieves stole the toilet to melt it down, and sell it on as gold bars, making it impossible to trace. The sheer volume of 18-carat gold making up Cattelan’s toilet had an estimated worth of at least $1.25 million. Alas, the complete artwork would have been worth considerably more, possibly around $6 million, particularly given its notoriety. But there is no way the criminals could sell the artwork without police catching up with them.


Did Maurizio Cattelan Stage the Theft?

cattelan america guggenheim installation
Maurizio Cattelan posing with America, 2016, at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, via Public Delivery


Given his reputation for staging some of the art world’s most infamous pranks, some thought Cattelan might even have staged the theft himself, in order to earn himself even more publicity. Cattelan denies playing any part at all in the theft, however, telling a newspaper at the time, “I wish it was a prank. Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet?” Despite being “mortified” by the theft, Cattelan also praised the criminals for their ruthless act. He called them “great performers,” adding, “I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood inspired action.” 


The Investigation into Cattelan’s Gold Toilet Scandal Is Ongoing

maurizio cattelan's gold toilet america blenheim palace
The site where criminals ripped Maurizio Cattelan’s America, 2016, from the premises at Blenheim Palace, leaving behind significant damage, via Vice Magazine


As of 2022, investigations into Cattelan’s missing gold toilet are still ongoing. It is highly likely that thieves have already destroyed Cattelan’s gold toilet by now, so the chances of finding it are slim. For now, at least, this remains one of the world’s most notorious and unsolved art heists. Dominic Hare, the CEO of Blenheim Palace commented, “It’s 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.”

Author Image

By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.