Judith Ann Moriarty
One Piece at a Time

The Best Little Holes in Wisconsin

By - Mar 3rd, 2011 04:00 am
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That’s quite a throne. Photos by Judith Ann Moriarty

When I decided to write about my favorite works of art, I never thought I’d be writing about a hole. Well, not just any hole, but those that bring new meaning to the possibilities of the ultimate “Throne.” We all sit on them, some more comfortably than others.

The holes of which I speak are in Sheboygan, the land of brats and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. I’ve been there often and even sat upon an aforementioned Throne, in a room marked “Women,” to the left as you enter JMKAC. What better place to show off the plumbing fixtures that made Sheboygan famous?

The first time I sat on one of the holes I came home hating the bathroom in my condo unit, which suddenly seemed only a step above an outhouse, albeit one replete with New Yorker magazines.

Enter here and consider this particular throne room as you would an art installation…a carefully planned arrangement of objects fashioned of porcelain. The walls alone are a knockout! As it happened, a writer friend drove north with me, she to review an exhibition and me to try something different.

It certainly was different.

The Men’s entry is one door south and was voted “Best Bathroom in America,” in 2004 by Cintas Corp. Women may enter there, but knock three times and make sure the coast is clear. As a guy rushed in I caught a glimpse of machismo symbols on one wall, but that’s all. One should never disturb a guy on his throne. If you stand outside of the adjacent restrooms, you can hear the toilets flush. The Milwaukee Art Museum had the same problem on the lower level of the Kahler addition, where it was often hard to keep a straight face and listen to a nearby lecture above the whooooooosh of a flush. We can put a man on the moon, but we still can’t hush a flush.

So here I am in a stall enameled in a shade of pink that reminds me of the inside of an ear or conch shell. I gaze downward into the interior of the toilet painted with wee violets, but if you need glasses and aren’t wearing any, frankly those little things resemble itsy bitsy spiders.

I forewarn: if you are a hardcore feminist, don’t enter this room. As I look about, I’m caught in a 2005 Mad Hatter’s Tea Party populated by figures resembling paper-dolls. It’s a land of fairy tales, designed and executed by Massachusetts artist Cynthia Consentino, who must like all things light and bright and feminine and then some.

When I look into the basin I am washing my hands in, the surface of same is painted with a red bikini bottom, life-sized. On the rim of the basin are several black hairpins, placed as if carelessly left there. They weren’t. They are the art of Ms. Consentino, a splendid craftsperson.

The Women’s Room is opulently overwhelming, swell in the way that rows and rows of handcrafted sweets are. But that said, I find myself wishing to exit the jungle of glossy underwear, socks, accessories, and animals aplenty. Female body types and all manner of things were sculpted in relief form, then used to create molds from which poured hundreds of individual tiles ready to be painted. In many ways it resembles a candy shop.

It’s a bit much, but then again, this is the marvelous Kohler Arts Center, where anything can happen and often delightfully does.

On the way home I try to determine what type of toilet paper was being dispensed. High end, I would imagine.

Categories: Visual Art

0 thoughts on “One Piece at a Time: The Best Little Holes in Wisconsin”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice piece! But Judith Ann, you have to go back! You haven’t mentioned the other two bathrooms, men and women, on the other side of the museum. I can only assume you missed them. Both different from the ones you describe. The women’s is less feminine, more classic and refined. The men’s is amazing – all in blue and white porcelain, a la delft ceramics, and having water and waterworks as its theme. I agree that together, they are among the best art spaces anywhere. Ya gotta love art!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Judith —
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/blurradial/4715913059/ (the men’s room urinal)

    Merry Christmas.
    Sincerely, Brian

  3. Anonymous says:

    Eddee: yes, I did visit those johns on the east side of the museum, but alas! word counts count these days. Perhaps in another life, I’ll be able to cover the more, shall we say, “refined” holes…judith

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