In January, US President Donald Trump asked New York’s Guggenheim Museum for a work of art to furnish the White House. Curator Nancy Spector declined the request for a Vincent Van Gogh, suggesting instead that she would be willing to part with Maurizio Cattelan’s America: a toilet cast in 18-carat gold. It was a perfectly eloquent "up yours". Spector could legitimately affirm that golden household objects are Trump’s preferred form of decoration. But even the president’s irony-free, literal-minded advisers could see that there was a veiled message. Cattelan’s 2016 sculpture invokes Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (a porcelain urinal declared an artwork in notoriously avant-garde fashion). It was plumbed in for public use and more than 100,000 people visited the Guggenheim to use it. It was, as British art critic Jonathan Jones noted, "a comment on the insanity of the art market as well as the grotesque inequalities of runaway capitalism". While very few of those who queued for the gilded ...

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