Friday, April 1, 2011

But Is It Art?

"You're not going to see the bedpans?"a friend asked as I walked past her car on my way to Tompkins-McCaw Library.

Of course I was, I told her, and wasn't she?

"I'd rather read about it on your blog," she said diplomatically.

Not me; I wanted to see the photographs and objects themselves.

After all, how many bedpan exhibits can I hope to see in my lifetime?

"Bedpan Elegance: Celebrating the Beauty of an Everyday Object" included not only thirty large-format photographs of bedpans, but also the Tompkins-McCaw Library's collection of bedpans.

And I don't want to brag, but in addition to the beauties displayed out front, I was taken into the back room to see those that had not made the cut and were sitting forlornly on a cart.

I chatted with the artist William Dubois (Billy) who acquired his first bedpan in 1977 for fifty cents.

Since then he's added five dozen or so antique and contemporary bed pans and urinals to his collection.

Some of them hang in the bathrooms of his home; the guest bathroom has the female urinals lined up along the door.

Now that's a place I'd like to relieve myself.

There was so much to learn about bedpans from the big, beautiful photographs Dubois had taken.

Perfection #1 was patented in June 1900.

The Blue Speckle Relax model reminded me of my mother's turkey roasting pan. 

The Ideal Boots model was labeled a "Bed and Douche Slipper."

The English Slipper had instructions scripted inside: "Slipper should be put under the patient and between the legs."

I'll leave the rest to the imagination.

Despite the number of colorful bedpans (dark blue, coarse brown, smooth gold, caramel, chocolate), along about the 19th century, the medical community realized that patients expected  bright white sterile-looking surroundings in hospital settings and were perhaps jarred to see decorative patterns on such unsavory items.

And yet, current models are pink injection-molded plastic. Go figure.

Leaving the exhibit (which runs until June 30) with visions of ceramic and porcelain bed pans and urinals (including a feminine urinal that closely resembled a teapot) in my head, I knew there'd be no way to top such an uncomfortably fascinating exhibit any time soon.

But there was more art to be had.

Ghostprint Gallery was doing their monthly preview (my favorite way to really see a show sans the First Friday mob scene) and Adam Juresko's new show "Tomorrow Will Be Worse" was full of pictorial and graphic images with a sly humor to them.

The dozens of framed 8 x 10" mixed media pieces showed Juresko's knack for combining vintage print images with bold text to convey an entirely different meaning.

Although I already own a Juresko, I was very tempted to buy another because these were so different.

I went up to the artist and asked him why I should buy another of his pieces when I already had one and, in his understated way, he confirmed that these were different enough to warrant it.

So we were in agreement on that.

There were a bunch of good people to talk to while I was there - the sculptor, the labor organizer, the print maker, the tattoo artist, the gallery owner.

One of the many pleasures of the public previews is actually being able to have a conversation of substance when you run into someone.

Well, that and getting first crack at buying the art, no small benefit at a show where the art is so affordably priced.

I walked out with one of the pieces, leaving a gap in the display, but that's also part of the plan for the exhibit.

It's a conceptual piece, don't you know.

Secco was next and I walked in to find a full bar, but a favorite chef at the end of the bar and motioning me toward him and a friend.

I gave him a European-style kiss, leaving lip prints on both cheeks which he refused to remove, despite having to leave for the airport shortly to collect a friend ("He will say, 'Ooh, I like Richmond! I want to stay!' when he sees this.").

Luckily for me, he was on a boys' night out excursion, so he left behind a friend to entertain me.

Oh, boy, stranger conversation!

A wine recommendation from the master led me to Domaine Henry Pelle Menetou-Salon Morogues.

Meanwhile I ordered the housemade salt cod, roasted red bliss potatoes, and fried leeks in an olive oil emulsion.

I shared one bite of this succulent fish with the stranger, but only because he'd shared a bite of his grilled scallops and mushrooms first.

I mean, fair is fair.

Besides, I'd learned that he was a Jackson-Ward homesteader, having bought into my beloved 'hood back in the 80s.

That's like catnip to J-Ward Girl, as were his stories of Crossroads, my neighborhood hangout.

It was amazing how many of the same people we know in this town, but we also moved to Richmond just about the same time.

Dessert was stinky cheese, this time the bleu d'Auvergne, a briny, piney and creamy delight of the type which, had I been on a date, we both would have had to have eaten it to make it a fair fight.

Or a fair whatever.

I finished out my night chatting up a storm with Secco's queen, Julia, and ogling the Restaurant Week menu.

In fact, we were so busy talking about the juicy stuff that I didn't even remember to tell her about the urinals I'd seen.

Come to think of it,  maybe she'd rather just read about it on the blog, too.

Not everybody needs to actually see a Perfection #2 (the most comfortable bedpan in the world).

For whatever reason, I do.

Judge away.


  1. It was great to see you at the exhibit, Karen! Let me know if you ever want a behind the scenes tour of Special Collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library (huge collection of medical artifacts . . . super cool and creepy) or at Cabell Library (one of the largest comics collections in the country, book art, Richmond & VCU history).

  2. You sure know how to tempt a girl!

    Only if we can go to Roy's or City Dogs afterwards!

  3. But of course your interest would be piqued by bedpans as art.

    Your innate curiosity and passion for life are what make you so beguiling -- both to read and in person I would guess.

  4. Maybe you could be my press agent and tell the male population what a catch I am!

    Just kidding, but thank you for such kind words.

  5. Yes, it was more fun reading about in your blog!

  6. So glad I could be of service!