The Water Closet Gallery

by Gary John Gresl

“Perkins’ Water Closet Gallery”
A site for alchemical transubstantiation, social dialogue and Duchampian Reflection.

Dr. Stephen Perkins, Curator of Art at the Lawton Art Gallery, UW Green Bay, is a fascinating artist, curator and social activist who recognizes that art does more than decorate walls. Art is a vehicle that can initiate change, expose hypocrisies, speak about injustices, and generally comment about our culture…the good and bad of it.

Some years ago Stephen took an odd and bold step by turning a toilet room (as the Brits say, the WC) in his Green Bay area home into an art gallery. No fooling! He calls this gallery the smallest gallery in Wisconsin, and I will not argue that fact. The WC Gallery is open by appointment only, unless one happens to visit during one of its opening receptions, at which time one will be given access to other areas of the home to view the collection of Steve and his wife, Arda.

As it has evolved, this quirky space has become a site for serious intellectual inquiry and expression. Stephen has had several exhibits that would stretch the boundaries of what an ordinary gallery would show. For example, here are some titles of past exhibits: The Rubbish War Dance of the Elephants, Postcards from Uruguay, Nothing, an installation by Nobody, and Whirlpools (consider this as quite appropriate for a WC).

In some January 08 email exchanges, Stephen has offered the following statements. His own words best express his philosophy and intentions.

”…the WC is a vehicle through which I can approach people whom I admire. All the artists have been {from} outside of the Green Bay area…What we need here is more internationalism, and a greater understanding of different & diverse viewpoints.”

And he goes on: “The other main idea in the birth of the gallery was that I saw it as a place that could act as a locus through which different people from the Green Bay arts community could meet and hopefully that there might be some artistic cross-fertilization. Thus the opening receptions are key for this strategy — since I think maybe a handful of people have summoned up the courage to call and ask to see the show. I recognize that going to someone’s private house can be intimidating — but that’s the breaks.”

In reference to a past WC exhibit, he states: “…Medalla’s point that the toilet and its gold painted walls marks it as a place of alchemical transubstantiation is rather interesting to me.” And, “The WC also returns Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ to its original context. Thus this site is the site of the birth of the readymade....the ramifications are certainly provocative.”

“…the works I choose for the WC (for the most part) are works that go against the grain of traditional art as consumer product, but work against this tradition and are located much more in art as process,
art as a socially/politically engaged practice, as a way of intervening in the world, exploring arts potential to change things, certainly critique things. Anti-formalist. Fluxus would be an example of a movement that encapsulates many of these qualities.

Do many Green Bay art enthusiasts and curious visit the opening receptions or make appointments? Well…you can imagine that the turn-out is limited. Stephen says, “A number of people know about the gallery but have never visited it. Just knowing that its there is enough for them!”

Stephen is far from the typical type we expect to try to make an impact in Wisconsin’s art culture. Most gallerists, curators and artists are presenting work that conforms to a more traditional lineage of the visually satisfying subject or technique. Stephen is trying to impact a relatively conservative culture with the art of ideas…challenges to the status quo and invested interests. He is poking, prodding, tempting…and he is willing to stimulate some unrest.

This comment helps to understand Steve’s motivations: “…intervening within the social arena and hoping to initiate change, or at least affect people at a local/personal level. The WC is definitely a part of this modus operandi.”

The WC Gallery is open by appointment by calling 920-337-2976. It is located at 908 Talbot Ave. De Pere