Is Toilet Art Having a Moment?

People interacting with Claudio Ahlers’ genitalia sculptures Photos: Courtesy of The Beautiful Two by Claudio Ahlers in Bristol.
People interacting with Claudio Ahlers’ genitalia sculptures Photos: Courtesy of The Beautiful Two by Claudio Ahlers in Bristol.

The artist Claudio Ahlers has turned a former public toilet in Bristol into an art installation, the Bristol Post reports. Inside, Ahlers is inviting members of the audience to have their photo taken with two giant sculptures of a penis and a vagina, made of black velvet and shown in the ladies’ toilet and in the men’s.

Ahlers, and collaborators Tilly May, Virginie Noel, and Ellie Gray, plan to photograph visitors interacting with the 2.2 meters (7 feet) tall sculptures. “While being photographed […] participants will be free to pose, sit, and engage with each sculpture in whatever way they like,” Ahlers explained. The resulting pictures will then be displayed on the surrounding walls, creating an expanding gallery of images.

The risqué exhibition, part of the program of the Bristol art space The Edwardian Cloakroom, starts today and will run for six days. Ahlers hopes to tour the country with the show, which he has titled Portraits of Private Perception.

Despite its glamorous associations with wealth, globetrotting, and intellectual sophistication, contemporary art has been inextricably linked to toilets since Duchamp presented his urinal ready-made in 1917, altering the course of art forever.

In 2003, Paul Stafford opened the Toilet Gallery in a converted public toilet in Kingston upon Thames, featuring the work of British duo Gilbert & George among others. The White Cubicle, located in the ladies’ toilet of the Shoreditch pub The George & Dragon in East London, has been running an acclaimed program of exhibitions and events since 2005. Established by Pablo León de la Barra (currently Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, Latin America), the White Cubicle has featured the works of artists such as Karl Holmqvist, Elmgreen & Dragset, Francesc Ruiz, Terence Koh, and General Idea.

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