Golden toilet to Trump not as clever as museum thinks

by | Jan 28, 2018 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 0 comments

It’s become so common to hurl insults at President Trump, I wonder if we’re losing our perspective.

Last year, the President and the First Lady requested to borrow a painting from the Guggenheim museum for their private White House quarters. This is not unusual. Presidents often request pieces from galleries or museums for display during their terms.

The Kennedys were loaned a painting by Eugene Delacroix, the 19th century French Romantic master. President Obama was loaned works by modern abstract artists Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns.

The Trumps requested Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting “Landscape With Snow.” Fine choice. Can’t argue with the taste.

The Guggenheim turned them down. But it offered an alternative: A gold toilet.

I am not making this up.

“It is a solid, 18k gold toilet that was installed in one of our public restrooms for all to use in a wonderful act of generosity,” Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim curator, reportedly wrote. “We would be pleased to help facilitate…installing it in the White House.”

No joke: It was a used golden throne

I had to read this story twice to see if it was a joke. The Trumps asked for a van Gogh. The museum offered a gold toilet. A used gold toilet. Some have estimated more than 100,000 visitors did their business on this expensive throne.

And that gets offered to the President of the United States? And nobody blinks? This is business as usual now?

Never mind that a toilet as art is pretty dubious. Never mind that the artist, Maurizio Cattelan, named this piece “America.” Or that he has also sculpted a giant hand giving you the middle finger and an image of Pope Paul II getting hit by a meteorite.

Never mind all that. What strikes me is the museum curator’s sense of entitlement in answering a White House request for something that inspires with a suggestion of something that flushes.

Spector, the curator, makes no secret of her personal disdain for Trump. The day after he was elected, she wrote an Instagram post that began, “This must be the first day of our revolution to take back our beloved country,” (which sounds oddly like a Trump campaign slogan). Later in the post she added, “Don’t mourn, organize.”

So maybe the museum should have had someone else respond? Someone less vested? Unless you think an American art institution suggesting a used toilet to a President is perfectly fine.

Would you have thought so in previous administrations?

Our lack of civility is worrisome

Now, I understand if the idea of a rich man asking for free art bothers you. But remember, it’s decoration, not ownership. The Kennedys had plenty of money and did the same.

I understand if you find Trump’s policies so abhorrent, you feel he deserves no respect.

I understand if you point to Trump’s tweets and off-the-cuff comments and feel they are no less vile than a used commode.

But there’s what you feel and there’s what you do. There’s the office of the President and the man who sits in it. If the Guggenheim so harshly dislikes Trump, a simple “Sorry, it’s not available” would have sufficed. The message would have been clear.

But to take the extra step of an unsolicited toilet suggestion should be cause for a pause. This is not some left-wing coffee house. This is the Guggenheim in New York, a prestigious museum founded in the mid-20th century and visited by enthusiasts from around the world.

Like I said, I’m not making this up.

Yes, I know, in the big picture, is this on a par with North Korea barbs, or Russia investigation denials? Of course not.

But a lowered standard rarely rises again. Our public discourse has sunk to shouting. Our tolerance for others is nearly invisible. Our “right to insult” is at an all-time high.

And from late night hosts to now, apparently, museum curators, we are mining new ways to mimic, insult, and all but poop on the office of the President (hence the toilet) that should be beneath us.

Even if it is not beneath the man currently sitting there.

We grow ever snarkier, ever more disrespectful. You can make a strong case that this comes from the top. But we need to remember that most of us will be in our positions far longer than Trump will be in his.

I worry a great deal about the President’s lack of civility.

I worry more about ours.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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