Installed under the direction of the artists
who designed them, two new restrooms in the Smith College Museum of Art blur the
boundaries between form and function as well as personal and public space. The public
restrooms, located on the lower level directly adjacent to the exhibition gallery,
are permanent works of art created separately by noted artists Ellen Driscoll and
images of the completed restrooms >
Driscoll’s women’s room, titled Catching
the Drift, is a serene immersion in an underwater world. With a predominant
palette of shades of blue, the room includes imagery drawn from Smith’s distinguished
art collection. Set into the blue-tiled walls are glass panels finely etched with
images of protozoa, works of art, nets, and waves. Fabricated in Germany by the
firm that created Driscoll’s glass mosaic murals for Grand Central Station
in New York, the glass panels are “translucent optical windows or doors into
the watery world beyond the architecture,” explains Driscoll. The imagery
is also continued in the sinks and other fixtures in the room.
In contrast to Driscoll’s blue world of water,
Skoglund men’s restroom is a visual blizzard of black and white that Skoglund,
a Smith alumna (Class of 1968), hopes will intrigue startled visitors into a closer
look at the images on each tile. Titled Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams, the
work features ten detailed drawings of stories of transformation and creation that
Skoglund took from myths and folklore from different cultures. The tiles with these
narrative images are repeated in a specific pattern with other tiles containing drawings
of large, tear-like drops. The droplets are continued in the bathroom fixtures, where
they enclose tiny human forms, a reference to a creation theme from Egyptian mythology.
The idea for the unusual restrooms was inspired by the
artist-designed restrooms at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (Sheboygan, Wisconsin),
directed by Smith alumna and Smith Medal recipient Ruth DeYoung Kohler (class of
1963). Driscoll and Skoglund held residencies at the Kohler Company’s Arts/Industry
program in the spring of 2001, which enabled them to have their unique designs fired
onto bathroom fixtures in the giant kilns of the Kohler Company’s factory.
Because of the curiosity and excitement already generated
by the restrooms, the museum has promised to set aside a daily “viewing hour” (in
addition to open use hours) so that visitors will be able to see both rooms.
The SCMA restrooms are underwritten by a grant from
the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education. The fixtures and fittings for the entire
Brown Fine Arts Center were donated by Kohler Company.
Features of the
as Functional Art
of the Artist Restrooms