Today I visited a major international art gallery in London which had removed its public toilets as part of a temporary exhibition. It has been inspired by the work of Mark Rothco who intended his audiences to utterly submerge themselves in his work without the distraction of commerce, entertainment or bodily needs. The art exhibition without toilets is a natural extension of that principle and it was exhilarating to see that the galley was, despite these limitations, doing a hearty trade.
Many visitors had flocked to the exhibition’s many multi-storey galleries and were variously absorbed, challenged or disturbed by what they encountered there: the usual bread and butter experience for a modern art gallery these days it would seem.
The shops and cafes too were doing a roaring trade, plying their wares of ceramics, calendars and cream teas as if tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough. But the most interesting aspect of the gallery with no public toilets was the speed at which visitors engaged with the gallery. Instead of lingering to absorb the work, viewers were tearing through the galleries clearly more intent on emptying their bladders their filling their souls. The cafe had turned into a fast food joint with sandwiches, cakes and croissants abandoned – frequently mid-mouthful. At the end of the afternoon it resembled the Marie Celeste, plates strewn across the floor, tea cups suspended in mid-air and doughnuts bayoneted on the backs of chairs.
As the visit wore on however, it became clear that visitors’ biological needs were becoming more pressing and their ability to wait until they got to the nearest McDonald’s had been stretched beyond breaking point.
Several urination hotspots were making their presence felt in the corridors and secret spaces of the gallery. Foot fall became flooded feet as damp streaks across the atrium concrete floor indicated where visitors had not only been caught short but made their contribution to the gallery experience of others. Whether this was through hormonal influence, peer pressure or instructions from the gallery guide is unclear but their contributions were unmistakable in every sensory way imaginable: sight, sound and of course the smell of the Art Gallery without toilets is something that is not quickly forgotten.
Some may say that the modern art gallery is nothing more than the excrescences of contemporary artists who don’t know how to paint but I think that is an unfair charge against the artist. They may not know how to paint but the modern gallery sure knows how to make people piss in the most unlikeliest and inspirational of circumstances.