Phoenix critic confesses all

Flushed
By GREG COOK  |  June 24, 2011

flushed main
BATHROOM HUMOR In retrospect, the original “Flush with the Walls” can be seen as anticipating guerrilla art of recent years — like Banksy sneaking his paintings into the Louvre. 

I arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts with jittery nerves and a bunch of art stuck down my pants.

I suppose I should clarify. The drawings, photos, and prints were in a big manila envelope tucked into the top of my pants and under my suit coat. No art actually ever came in direct contact with my person.

It was Wednesday, June 15, a bit after 6 in the sunny evening. It was the exact 40th anniversary of the legendary exhibition "Flush with the Walls," in which six Boston artists — Bob Guillemin, Kristin Johnson, Todd McKie, Martin Mull, David Raymond, and Jo Sandman — snuck their art into a men's room at the MFA for a renegade, joke exhibition. "Three or four or five TV stations all of a sudden materialized," Guilleman (a/k/a Sidewalk Sam) recalled. "Hundreds of people suddenly appeared. The cooperation, the spirit of intrigue among artists and their friends was intense and exhilarating. It was us against the establishment."

A report at the time in the newspaper Boston After Dark (which would later become the Phoenix) said that "Flush with the Walls" ingeniously and wittily pointed out that "the men's room seems to be the only place in the Museum of Fine Arts that an exhibit by contemporary local artists can be seen." Not long after the show, the MFA hired its first contemporary art curator. (The original B.A.D. article has been re-posted this week at thePhoenix.com.)

Mull went on to be the most famous, playing Roseanne's boss on TV's Roseanne, and making appearances on The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, and Family Guy (in which a school is named Martin Mull Elementary). Most of the others continue to make art in the Boston area. And in retrospect, "Flush with the Walls" can be seen as anticipating guerrilla art of recent years — like Banksy sneaking his paintings into the Louvre.

>> VIDEO:"Flush with the Walls" MFA art stunt turns 40 <<

But as the anniversary of the show approached, it seemed like the MFA might let this landmark in its history — and Boston art history — pass unnoted. So I stepped up as, let's say, a guest curator. Thus the art under my clothes, and in a folder I was carrying in plain sight. Also every pocket of my suit was bulging with catalogues for the night's commemorative exhibition, subtitled "Bathroom Reading." 

In the spirit of the original 1971 show, and in its honor, I'd rounded up a group of 21 Boston-area artists and collaboratives to again, without permission, sneak their work into MFA bathrooms. I dubbed it "Best of Boston 40-ennial." The line-up — including three artists from the original show — featured myself, Elizabeth Alexander, Antoniadis and Stone, Resa Blatman, Laura Chasman, Caleb Cole, David Curcio, Bob Guillemin a/k/a Sidewalk Sam, Institute for Infinitely Small Things, Paul Laffoley, Chaz Maviyane-Davies, Maria Molteni, Ernest Morin, Dan Moynihan, Mary O'Malley, Kari Percival, David Raymond, Jo Sandman, Ben Sloat, Joe Wardwell, and Deb Todd Wheeler.

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