The art world is abuzz after a controversial statue of Adolf Hitler made by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan sold for a record $17.2 million at a Christie’s auction last night. The statue, titled “Him,” is made of wax and portrays the genocidal former German chancellor as a young schoolboy kneeling in prayer. Bidding, reported The Art Newspaper, was “healthy.” I’d say.

Maurizio Cattelan’s artwork, “Him,” in the former Warsaw Ghetto, in 2013. (Wikimedia)

Cattelan’s creation—finished two years after he made a life-sized effigy of Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite, called “La Nona Ora“—has a history of being castigated. When “Him” was included as part of an exhibition held at 14 Próżna Street, once a part of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called it “a senseless provocation.” On the other hand, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, explained that exhibiting art like “Him” in Warsaw could “motivate us to face issues and concepts we prefer to ignore.” Like the Wiesenthal Center, however, Schudrich also disagreed with the decision to exhibit the statue at a site of so much Jewish death. “If you want to provoke moral questions,” Schudrich said, “then you also need to be sensitive.”

Cattelan’s latest piece, titled “America” (after Kafka’s novel), is coming to the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan later this month, and it differs from what he’s created in the past. For one thing, it’ll be displayed not in a gallery but in a bathroom. Described by New York Times art critic Randy Kennedy as “a preposterously scatological apotheosis of wealth,” Cattelan’s creation is, quite literally, a toilet—fully functional and made from solid 18-karat-gold. It will be for public use.

“There’s the risk that people will think of it as a joke, maybe,” Cattelan, who is quasi-retired, told the Times, “but I don’t see it as a joke.”

Somehow, this news—of Hitler and of a toilet—has a relative, at least partly. Last April, Hitler’s toilet, scrapped from a yacht of his, was apparently found in New Jersey and sold for under $5,000. But you won’t see that being displayed at a museum, just, perhaps, on a reality TV show.

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