Don’t flush that work of art
Urinetown, the award-winning musical theatre, will be staged by homegrown theatre company Pangdemonium. (Photo: Pangdemonium)

Don’t flush that work of art

It is intimate and taboo, it induces giggles and frowns. It is also inclusive – everyone can relate to it. Yes, we are talking about art inspired by the toilet.

Potty aesthetics has found its place in the world of high art not least since the early-1900s, when artist Marcel Duchamp signed a readymade urinal and proclaimed it a work of sculpture. That radical gesture opened the floodgates of conceptual art, and the toilet, as well as human excrement, quickly became popular motifs.

The toilet is similarly the stimulus for the musical comedy Urinetown. It premiered off-Broadway in 2001 and went on to snag the prestigious Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Urinetown is set in a fictional city battling a water crisis. Its government has banned privately-owned toilets and installed pay-to-use public loos on the pretext of saving water. Those who do not pay to urinate are exiled to the penal colony Urinetown.

The musical will be staged by homegrown theatre company Pangdemonium at the Drama Centre Theatre from Friday to 13 Oct. The cast includes actors Adrian Pang, Andrew Marko and Benjamin Chow, with Tracie Pang as the director.

Perhaps the power of the “throne” and its subjects lies in their simplicity as motifs, making them relevant and relatable to audiences. Here are three other famous works of art inspired by urine:

The Artist’s Urine (1993), Vincent Leow
Singapore artist Leow bottled his urine and sold each labelled, numbered and signed vial for $30. The work, The Artist’s Urine, explores the commoditisation of art.

Oxidation Paintings (1970s to 1980s), Andy Warhol
The famed American pop artist asked those in his social circle to urinate on canvas covered with copper paint. The uric acid reacts with the copper and results in the formation of abstract coloured images on the canvas.

America (2016), Maurizio Cattelan
Cattelan’s 18k gold toilet is a riff on Duchamp’s humble porcelain Fountain. Fully functioning, the golden throne was first installed in New York’s Guggenheim museum for the public to use. The work is both a nod to the extravagance of the art world, and the American dream of opportunity.

The lavatory, valued at £1m, was then installed at the Blenheim palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, for a contemporary art show. It was, however, stolen on 14 Sep and it has not yet been recovered. A 66-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the theft and investigations are ongoing.

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