Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
 News & Features
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   Picture This
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Clubs & Concerts
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Art Imitates Bathroom Fixtures

A trip to the loo isn’t usually the top attraction at an art museum, but for the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Mass., that’s exactly the case. The building’s artist-designed restrooms, part of a recently completed renovation and expansion, are bringing in new faces in advance of the museum’s official reopening on Sunday. “We’ve been open for about a month with just one exhibition, and a lot of people have heard about the restrooms and are drawn in,” says museum director Suzannah Fabing. “They go to the bathroom and then they go and look at the gallery.” The specially commissioned restrooms are part of a three-year, $35-million expansion that enlarges the building’s size by a third and includes a 40-foot skylit atrium and a new top floor of gallery space. And one-of-a-kind wash basins.

“The idea is that every aspect of the museum will be an artistic experience,” Fabing explains. “Ellen Driscoll, a Boston artist, did the women’s restroom, and Sandy Skoglund, who lives in New York City, did the men’s restroom. We actually heard about this from the Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin. It’s the same family as the Kohler plumbing company, and the center is attached to the factory. Turns out the arts center has a program where it invites artists to come and do a residency and work in the factory. The artists usually make their own things, they use the company’s ceramic kilns and metal-working facilities. But we had our artists actually decorate the fixtures for the restrooms during their residencies, and then they came back and planned the rooms.”

So, is peering into the toilet bowl part of the experience? “Ellen’s bowls and basins are glazed ceramic, and her theme is ‘Catching the Drift,’ ” says Fabing without missing a beat. “It turns the ladies’ room into an underwater environment—the basins are cobalt blue and they’ve got netting across them. The toilets have pieces of kelp and things like that in them. On the walls she used a special kind of glass that has a layered effect; what you see is works from the collection featuring women, and [the women] are caught in the nets and kind of swimming around. It’s pretty wild.

“Sandy used a decal process that is used a lot in high-end, commercial bathroom decoration, and her restroom is called ‘Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams,’ ” Fabing continues. “Her theme is taken from 10 different creation myths from different cultures that all deal with fluids.” And no, water is not the only fluid, and yes, you should use your imagination. “The color scheme is black-and-white,” Fabing adds reassuringly. Another non-gallery draw is the museum’s 11 custom benches, each created by a different New England artisan. “Many of the craftsmen started out right here in the Pioneer Valley,” says Fabing. “The benches are all different; they’re meant to be sat upon, and they are great.”

The museum is known primarily for its collection of 19th- and early 20th-century European and American art, and that, too, is undergoing a change. Chief curator Fabing, who came to Smith College in 1992 from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, is overseeing the museum’s push into Asian, African, Islamic, and Latin American art. “We’re broadening that out because the curriculum now is much more about the whole world and not just about the Western tradition,” she explains. “[European and American art] is still the great strength of this collection, and we don’t want to do any less of it, but thanks to having a bigger building, we can have a more active program of exhibitions in non-Western areas as well. For the reopening, we will have a small show of Japanese art, what’s called the Art of the Floating World, a period in the 18th century, and a larger exhibition of African art.”

Sparked by the need to replace the building’s cracking terra-cotta exterior, the renovation was expanded to facilitate the museum’s growth from a quiet, campus museum to one that can accommodate its increasing public audience. The renovation had some unexpected benefits. “It really feels like a new building,” says Fabing. “We’ve discovered views we never knew we had, out over the campus and the Holyoke Range, by opening windows where we didn’t have them before. These days you can control the light in ways that you couldn’t before, with light filters and different kinds of shades.

“It’s a beautiful space. We have a great collection, and now we have the proper container for it.”

The Smith College Museum of Art will hold a reopening celebration on Sunday (April 27) at 11:45 AM. The event will feature music, food, children’s activities and new exhibits. Admission is $3. For information, call (413) 585-2760.

—Ann Morrow

Take a Bow

Since his arrival in 1992, Albany Symphony Orchestra conductor and music director David Alan Miller has championed contemporary American music. Just last month, in a well-received (and well-reviewed) concert, the ASO presented the world premiere of Gordon Beeferman’s Morbidity and Mortality Report, and the U.S. premiere of Michael Torke’s An American Abroad. With the ASO avant-garde ensemble Dogs of Desire, Miller has conducted the premieres of more than 50 new works by Americans. This effort has been rewarded; the classical music world has taken notice. Miller has been named winner of Columbia University’s 2003 Alice M. Ditson Conductor’s Award for his commitment to the works of American composers.

The award consists of a citation and $5,000. In the citation, Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger praises Miller as a champion of American music: “Through adventurous concerts, educational initiatives and recording, Miller has enabled the Albany Symphony Orchestra to affirm its reputation as an outstanding supporter of American symphonic music and one of the nation’s most innovative orchestras.”

“It’s a great honor,” says Miller. “American music is so much of what we [at the Albany Symphony Orchestra] believe in,” he says, that the very existence of an award for promoting American music is gratifying. Miller explains that while performing the works of the great masters is wonderful, it is “equally exciting to perform the masters of the present.”

Receiving the Ditson Award (which was established in 1945) puts Miller in esteemed company—both past and present. (When this is mentioned, Miller is modest, then asks, “do you have the list in front of you?”) Legendary winners have included Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein; among his contemporaries, Michael Tilson Thomas, David Zinman and the Buffalo Philharmonic’s JoAnn Falletta have been so honored.

The award will be presented to Miller tomorrow night (Friday) at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, during the ASO’s performance, by J. Kellum Smith of the Ditson Advisory Committee. While the ASO’s program features Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, the orchestra also will perform an American work, the late Paul Creston’s Symphony No. 4.

“We’re recording this piece,” Miller says, referring to the Creston symphony. “We try to record pieces that aren’t readily available.”

While the ASO has recorded a number of new compositions, it also has rescued the neglected works of American masters. For instance, Miller and the ASO were the first to put on disc works by such well-known composers as Roy Harris and Morton Gould. In this case, Miller explains that for any number of reasons, Creston’s Symphony No. 4 has never been recorded—even though it is just as interesting and rewarding as the composer’s earlier symphonies, which are better known.

After the current ASO season ends (there are two concerts left: Mahler’s Heaven tomorrow, and The Prodigy Returns at the Palace Theatre on May 17), Miller hopes to enjoy some time off. He has conducting gigs lined up for the summer in Portugal and Chicago, before the ASO begins a new season next fall. Right now, Miller is enjoying the Ditson award, and what it signifies: “It’s a wonderful imprimatur on what we’ve been doing.”

The Albany Symphony Orchestra will perform tomorrow (Friday, April 25) at 8 PM at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (corner of Second and State streets, Troy). Tickets are $17 to $36. For reservations and information, call 273-0038.

—Shawn Stone

This Weekend They’ll Be Real

Starting this weekend, Bard College will celebrate the opening of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts with a series of gala events. Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry—it’s his first completed project on the East Coast—the Fisher Center contains two showcase theaters, the 900-seat Sosnoff Theater (model pictured) and the 200-seat Black Box Theater, in addition to rehearsal spaces, studios and classrooms. Tomorrow (Friday, April 25) the American Symphony Orchestra will perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in the Sosnoff Theater at 8 PM. JoAnne Akalaitis’ production of Jean Racine’s Phèdre will have its New York premiere on Saturday (April 26) in the Black Box Theater at 5 PM, and will run for five performances over two weekends. Also on Saturday, a program of contemporary music will be presented in the Sosnoff at 8 PM, featuring Melvin Chen, the Da Capo Chamber Players and the Emerson Quartet; Sunday will see the retrospective Thirteen Years of the Bard Music Festival in the Sosnoff, at 2 PM. The following weekend is, arguably, even more spectacular, with performances by the Charles Mingus Orchestra with special guest Elvis Costello; the Kronos Quartet with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; and Ballet Hispánico introducing a world-premiere choreography. Bard College is located in Annandale-on-Hudson; for showtimes, ticket prices and general information, call (845) 758-7900 or visit

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Banner 10000136
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 4 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.