Local artists commemorate -- and re-stage -- a legendary protest

"Flush with the Walls" at the MFA
By GREG COOK  |  June 15, 2011

bathroom art show at the museum of fine arts

Tonight—assuming all went according to plan—a group of 21 local artists have snuck their drawings, prints, photos and sculptures into a pair of bathrooms at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for a one-night, guerilla exhibit.

The exhibit celebrates the 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 on June 15, 1971. A report in the newspaper Boston After Dark at the time said "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."

Mull went on to be the most famous of the bunch. He played Roseanne's boss on TV's Roseanne, as well as 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 make art in the Boston area. And in retrospect, "Flush with the Walls" can be seen as anticipating guerilla art of recent years—like Banksy sneaking his paintings into the Louvre.

But as the anniversary of "Flush to the Walls" approached—40 years to the day tonight—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.

In the spirit of the original 1971 show, and in its honor, a group 21 Boston-area artists and collaboratives have again, without permission, snuck their work into bathrooms on a landing off a stairway down from the new Shapiro Family Courtyard. I dubbed it "Best of Boston 40-ennial." The lineup—including three artists from the original show—features Elizabeth Alexander, Antoniadis and Stone, Resa Blatman, Laura Chasman, Caleb Cole, Greg Cook, David Curcio, Bob Guillemin aka 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.

Of course, it’s a joke, including the title. But at the same time the exhibition, irrespective of myself, rounds up some of the finest creative talent we have around Boston — the sort of local talent that too frequently gets token acknowledgement or overlooked or underplayed by our local major museums, our schools, our press. Sometimes we just have to take some initiative.

Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal.

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, guerilla art
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