Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

US’s best museum bathrooms

Bathrooms at Longwood Gardens. Photo credit: mwms1916 on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Best Museum Bathrooms, According to Museum People, 29 July 2022

When you think of all the memorable, thoughtfully designed spaces in museums, the bathrooms may not be the first thing that come to mind. They aren’t usually considered the feather in an architect’s cap, and they can often feel more like a box-checking utility than a work of art.

But maybe that’s not as it should be. From the visitor perspective, bathrooms can be all-important, revealing just how carefully the designers of a public space considered their comfort and needs. For some people—including those who care for young children, who are transgender or gender-nonconforming, or who have disabilities—this importance can be heightened, and even a barrier to visiting a place altogether. Finally, for museums in particular, bathroom design can be an opportunity to show just how deep your mission goes, the ultimate showcase of your ability to stay on theme no matter the setting.

In that spirit, this month we decided to poll our readers about their favorite museum bathrooms, as part of our ongoing Question of the Month series in our Field Notes newsletter (which you should subscribe to, if you don’t already!). A hat tip for the idea goes to my colleague Elizabeth Merritt, who has long dreamed of AAM launching a formal “Best Museum Bathrooms” competition. In the meantime, this will have to do.

Here are the most common answers we received, ordered by number of mentions. Make sure to check out the Facebook post asking the question to see more of the two-hundred-plus responses that came in (including an intriguing tidbit about a former “Curator of Bathrooms” position).

Smith College Museum of Art (Northampton, Massachusetts)

Nominated by Paul Revere Memorial Association, Stuart Chase, Alexandra Schwartz, Elizabeth Fox, Sarah Zenaida Gould, Julie Steiner, Gennie Perez, Erin Richardson, and Michelle Stahl

“Smith College Museum of Art has artist-designed bathrooms, which are also installations with object records in their database!” – Erin Richardson

“The two sets of restrooms on the lower level are permanent works of art by Ellen Driscoll and Sandy Skoglund” – Paul Revere Memorial Association

In partnership with the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education and Kohler Company, the museum commissioned artists to design elaborately decorated facilities that “blur the boundaries between form and function.”

John Michael Kohler Arts Center (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)

Nominated by Jennifer Clearwater, Kristy Griffin-Smith, Jane Tomich, Kathi Lynn Pink, and Jennifer Rose Wolken

“The bathrooms are works of art, each designed by a different artist.” – Kristy Griffin-Smith

“Ranging from delightfully whimsical to spiritually uncomfortable, these bathrooms will make you think twice about your porcelain throne at home.” – Jess (c/o Megan Even)

John Michael Kohler Arts Center, whose namesake founded one of the best-known producers of toilets, hosts six spectacular artist-designed bathrooms throughout its main building, produced through the center’s artist-in-residence program that allows participants to experiment with the Kohler company’s manufacturing technologies and materials. The museum unveiled even more artist-designed bathrooms with the recent opening of its satellite Art Preserve site.

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