Yes, you read that right. And why shouldn’t we celebrate the porcelain throne? The toilet is one of modern life’s greatest inventions. Don’t believe me? Just think back to the last time you had to use a porta potty. Remember how that felt? It probably made you make a face like this, right?
World Toilet Day exists to champion the toilet and our access to clean and safe sanitation systems, which is definitely something many of us take for granted. While you’re sitting on the toilet for an extra thirty minutes because you can’t stop scrolling on your phone, forty percent of the world’s population still doesn’t have access to toilets! Poor sanitation affects health and much more. World Toilet Day serves as a reminder that we need to help provide those in need with this basic necessity.
As always, if you can think of something weird, there’s art for that. So let’s reflect on World Toilet Day by – you guessed it – looking at some toilet-themed works of art.
Oldenburg is known for making oversized versions of the things that you know and love...but did you know that he also liked to make things look soft? He began his reign as one of the foremost American Pop artists in the 1960s by making “soft” versions of otherwise mundane objects. Anything from contemporary, American life was fair game. Oldenburg created soft hamburgers, soft ice cream cones, soft mixers, and, of course, soft toilets to point out that these objects are the unsung heroes of our daily lives. This guy gets it.
Ah yes, Duchamp. The ultimate art world troll. If you don’t love this guy, then you most likely love to hate him. This simple urinal, which Duchamp dubbed Fountain, is perhaps the most notorious of art world pranks. This work was so shocking to the Salon judges precisely because it had to do with bodily functions and waste. Clearly something like this could not be art! Well, I’d love for those very judges to be reading this article.
The Tate Modern seemingly has this artwork, but so do the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. All of these Fountains are actually replicas of the 1917 original, which has since been lost. Duchamp’s dealer Arturo Schwartz made at least ten replicas in 1963 and 1964.
And now for an artwork that was the result of the artist not being able to find the toilet in time. In 1961, Manzoni produced ninety of these adorable, little cans.
Pretty gnarly, but Manzoni thought it was an oh-so-clever ploy to literally sell himself – something he criticized other artists for doing. He also sold balloons that would become “sculptures” when they were blown up. Manzoni charged customers more for balloons filled with his own breath, so you can only imagine what he would charge for cans of his own shit. Manzoni actually got one man to exchange 30 grams of 18-karat gold for 30 grams of his precious art.
Everyone knows that Maurizio Cattelan loves a good joke. This one might be his heaviest and best yet – a solid gold toilet named America. Manzoni replaced the toilet in one of the Guggenheim’s single-person, gender-neutral restrooms with a fully-functional, 18-karat gold one. Can you believe this guy?
Viewers could do whatever they wanted with this piece, as they were allowed to be locked in the bathroom alone with it. Yes – even use it. Many people took advantage of this unique opportunity. In just under a year’s time, over 100,000 people waited in line to experience the golden toilet .
All these toilets really prove that modern and contemporary art are anything but ordinary...or serious. Now go admire the sculptural beauty that resides in your very own bathroom.
- Whitney Museum of American Art. “Soft Toilet, 1966.” Collection. http://collection.whitney.org/object/425. Accessed November 5, 2017.
- United Nations. “World Toilet Day.” http://www.worldtoiletday.info/. Accessed November 5, 2017.
- World Toilet Organization. http://worldtoilet.org/. Accessed November 5, 2017.
- Tate. “‘Fountain,’ Marcel Duchamp.” Art & Artists. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573. Accessed November 9, 2017.
- Tate. “‘Artist’s Shit,’ Piero Manzoni.” Art & artists. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/manzoni-artists-shit-t07667. Accessed November 10, 2017.
- Nancy Spector. “Maurizio Cattelan’s Golden Toilet in the Time of Trump.” Blogs. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. August 17, 2017. https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/checklist/maurizio-cattelans-golden-to…. Accessed November 10, 2017.
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. “Maurizio Cattelan: ‘America.’” Exhibitions. https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/maurizio-cattelan-america. Accessed November 10, 2017.
- Museum of Modern Art. “The Store.” Exhibition Interactives. https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/oldenburg/. Accessed November 5, 2017.
- Arnason, H.H. and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art. 7th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013.