The artist who made a solid gold toilet reportedly worth £4.8m has denied orchestrating its theft in a Banksy-style prank.
The 18-carat working loo was ripped from a wood-panelled room at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, in the early hours of Saturday.
The Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, who created the sculpture entitled America and who has a track record of playing mischievous stunts, told the New York Times: “I wish it was a prank.”
He said: “Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet? America was the 1% for the 99%, and I hope it still is. I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action.”
Cattelan, 58, is understood to have attended a reception party at the 18th-century Oxfordshire estate on Friday, marking his first UK solo exhibition in two decades.
The sculpture was the centrepiece of his new show, which opened on Thursday.
Thames Valley police believe a gang of thieves using at least two vehicles were responsible for the theft and a 66-year-old man arrested on Saturday remains in police custody.
DI Jess Milne said on Sunday: “We are following a number of lines of inquiry and there will continue to be a police presence in and around the area of Blenheim Palace while our investigations continue.
“We are making every effort to locate the offenders and the toilet that was stolen.”
Some sceptics have been slow to accept the theft at face value, with the memory of Banksy shredding his famous Girl With a Balloon still fresh in the mind of the art world.
Last year, onlookers at a Sotheby’s auction were stunned when, just after it had sold for more than £1m, the canvas began to pass through a shredder installed in the frame. That stunt was said to have made the piece more valuable.
In Amsterdam in 1996, Cattelan previously stole the whole show of another artist at a nearby gallery and tried to pass off the exhibition as his own work.
He said at the time the theft was a “survival tactic” after being given only two weeks to produce work for his exhibit, saying “I took the path of least resistance. It was the quickest and easiest thing to do”, according to ArtNews.
Despite police being called, Cattelan was allowed to continue his display for several days.
Initial reports had said the golden toilet was worth an estimated £1m, but Blenheim Palace’s chief executive, Dominic Hare, said it has been valued at about $6m (£4.8m).
The sculpture hit the headlines last year after it was offered to the US president, Donald Trump, by the chief curator of the Guggenheim in New York, its former home.
The golden toilet had proved popular at the Fifth Avenue museum and had been described by critics as a pointed satire against the excesses of wealth.
Cattelan has previously said: “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”