Exploration

Golden Toilet: It's Good to Be King

At the Guggenheim museum in NYC, you can have a private encounter with a work of art.

The streets may be paved with gold in heaven but in New York, it's a gold toilet providing creature comfort --- and an eyeful for visitors to the city's Guggenheim museum.

The working toilet, cast in brightly gleaming gold, has been installed in a fourth-floor bathroom for the private use of the public, taking the notion of an intimate setting for art to a new level.

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The installation, "America," is the first piece that Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has exhibited since his 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim.

Starting Friday, it can be used as if an ordinary unisex toilet by the museum's visitors, Katherine Brinson, curator of contemporary art at the museum, told AFP.

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Visitors "will have a remarkably intimate and unusual encounter with this particular artwork," she said.

A guard will be posted outside the bathroom door, said the museum, which has refused to put a dollar value on the piece.

Brinson said the work had "many layers, many possible interpretative lenses that one can bring to it."

"One can see the title as a critique but also as idealistic. After all this is a work about creating access and opportunity for all for a very wide public, even though it is this lavish luxury item."

SEE PHOTOS: Everyone Poops, Even Whales

Green Giants?

New research shows that the diarrhea-like waste from whales is rich in iron so it stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which then serve as carbon traps that remove some 400,000 estimated tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

Gas Bubbles

This photograph shows an Antarctic minke whale in the Southern Ocean. The giant gas bubble emanating from the whale suggests that flatulence is just as common for ocean mammals as it is for humans and many other terrestrial animals.

Collecting Samples

Antarctic Division marine biologist Nick Gales scoops whale poo from water. When whales consume iron-rich krill, they excrete most of the iron back into the water. That triggers the growth of phytoplankton. The phytoplankton take up carbon from the ocean as they grow. Through the entire life and death cycle of these plants, the carbon then stays trapped for centuries.

Waste Bag

A scientist collects a fecal whale sample from a net. Most whale waste is not solid, but comes out as a giant liquid plume (save for the undigested squid beaks). Other marine mammals probably beneficially redistribute carbon just as whales do. These may include seals, sea lions and sea otters.

Blue and Red

Blue whale poop is shown. The red coloration is a result of the whale's krill diet. "It is sometimes thought that conservationists try to 'save the whales' only because they are cute," says Trisha Lavery a marine biologist at Flinders University of South Australia. But, as she points out, the animals (and their waste) "play a crucial role in marine ecosystems."