Awash in artistry
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 1/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
At the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts, visitors can seek relief from utilitarian rest-room design in lavatories that merit almost as much contemplation as the impressionist canvases in the museum's permanent collection. Thanks to artists Ellen Driscoll and Sandy Skoglund, the two rest rooms boast fancifully appointed sinks and toilets as well as walls embellished with pastiches of famous paintings and images culled from ancient mythology.
The rest rooms are located in Polshek Partnership Architects's Brown Fine Arts Center. Deciding that not just any loos would do for the building—which also houses classrooms, studios, and a library—the college sought creative alternatives. So Smith tapped Skoglund, an installation artist and photographer, and Driscoll, a sculpture professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, to customize the men's and women's rooms, respectively. Supplies were provided gratis by the Kohler Co., which furthermore offered access to its production facilities, so the artists could transfer their working sketches into decals for firing into porcelain.
Stylistic differences aside, both designs dive deep into the wonders of water. Driscoll's women's room, Catching the Drift, represents a "serene submersion in an underwater world," explains the artist. Encircling the room is a frieze of glass panels sandblasted with a dot-screen image of waves. Framed by ceramic wall tile, glass insets bear stylized images of marine life. Fishing nets and hooks, rendered in dark blue slip glaze, embellish the inside of porcelain sinks and toilet bowls. Renditions of artwork from the museum's collection are sandblasted on glass panels.
In Skoglund's men's room, aka Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams, walls bear illustrations of creation myths from various cultures. These "narrative tiles," as Skoglund calls them, alternate with ones bearing images of oversize water droplets, a motif that reappears in sink basins.
"My work tends to elicit an atypical reaction," says Skoglund. Indeed. The museum's rest rooms have piqued such curiosity that male and female visitors often pass over their own designated destinations to delight in a bit of transgression tourism.