A compendium of craft masquerading as art, art masquerading as craft, and craft extending its middle finger.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bathroom Matt


About a month ago, Matt Nolen, Ceramist Extraordinaire paid us a visit in Atlanta. I had almost forgotten how staggering his work is. Matt has a background in architecture, and drifted into ceramics, as many of us do. He worked functionally for a while, did some big-time craft shows, then re-invented himself as an image-based ceramist who made sly allusions to historical ceramic forms while engaging in contemporary social commentary. His breakthrough was a series of work that referenced Italian apothecary jars, but commented on social, personal, and environmental issues. He uses historical forms such as the tulip vase to tell a story. The historical content of his vessels add depth and timelessness to his narratives.
Which brings me to Matt Nolen's most herculean project to date: The Social History of Architecture, which uses a washroom at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin as his vessel. Porcelain bathroom ware ("After" dinner ware) and tiles are used to convey the history of architecture, from the ancient egyptians through modernism.

Restroom users experience going back in time through a narrative history of architecture beginning with modernism just inside the door to ancient Egypt in the back of the space. A social history of man is also related through text and images that appear in the sinks, urinals and toilets that occur in each “architectural zone.” Each restroom user assumes the identity of the highest male role model for each period as each fixture is carefully labeled with the appropriate title: e.g., CEO for modernism, PHARAOH for ancient Egypt, etc. A frieze of text from Goethe wraps around the entire space uniting the social history with the built form of historical architecture: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it – boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Recently, The Travel Channel ran a piece on the washrooms at the Kohler Center, which features a slide show. Last year, Cintas ran a contest which let voters select America's best Restroom. Of course, "The Social History of Architecture" took top honors. I have yet to visit the Kohler Center, but the slides in Matt's presentation were jaw dropping. Here are links to three images that Matt graciously provided, The Egyptian toilet stall, Medieval, Gothic, and Renaissance urinals, and Art Nouveau sink If you're in the Chicago, or Milwaukee area, plan a visit to the Kohler Center to experience it for yourself. I asked Matt what he had planned next, and he mentioned that he would love to do an entire narrative tiled SWIMMING POOL. If you know of any patrons with pockets deep enough, they could have the ultimate in aquatic art.

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