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Robert Arneson, John with Art, 1964, glazed ceramic with polychrome epoxy.

Excerpt from Jonathan Fineberg, Art since 1940: Strategies of Being, p. 287: In the summer of 1963, [Robert] Arneson received an invitation to exhibit alongside Voulkos and John Mason [two significant ceramic sculptors] in an important show at the Kaiser Center in Oakland, called "California Sculpture." With his own style still somewhat unformed and feeling in awe of these celebrated clay artists, Arneson concluded that the occasion called for a personal manifesto. "I really thought about the ultimate ceramics in western culture," Arneson explained, " I made a toilet." He attributed sexual anatomy to the flush handle, the seat, and the opening of the bowl, put fingernails on one end of the horseshoe seat and, as in John with Art of 1964, he even installed a pile of ceramic excrement inside. Then he inscribed the piece with scatological jokes.

Though many critics seized on Duchamp's Fountain as a precedent, Arneson explained that he had no such source in mind. "Duchamp did not make a toilet, he made an untoilet. It's about transformation --he took a toilet and make a work of art out of it -- I wasn't transforming anything. I was looking at a toilet like someone would look at a figure, you know, a very traditional kind of art, and then I started to talk about it, putting graffiti on."

The director of the Kaiser Center insisted that Arneson remove Toilet from the exhibition, causing the artist to realize that although it was offensive, shocking, and in bad taste, he had succeeded in making something original. "This produced a presence of the artist," he explained, ...I had finally arrived at a piece of work that stood firmly on its ground. It was vulgar, I was vulgar."

With Toilet (retitled Funk John about two years later) and John with Art Arneson aimed a biting satire at the abstract expressionist aspiration of letting everything within the artist spill out freely in the work. The heavy, monochromatic stoneware of Toilet resembled the ceramic sculpture of Voulkos. In addition, Arneson treated the surface with an abstract expressionist touch. Despite his satirical irreverence, Arneson's outrageousness stems from and even pays homage to the iconoclasm of abstract expressionism itself.

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