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Catie Olson, “Krampiss” (2013) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

CHICAGO — Little boys don’t piss in rivers. They pee in picturesque ways and all look like the “Manneken Pis,” a small bronze fountain sculpture of a little boy peeing forever into the fountain’s basin. On view in Brussels since it was erected by Hiëronynus Duseuesnoy the Elder in 1618-ish, this sculpture serves as the inspiration for artist Paul Nudd’s group exhibition Little Man’s Pee Pool Party: The Whiz Paddler’s Lament at Chicago’s Antena Gallery. Twenty-some-odd artists contributed their interpretations, which often turn out to be not-so-little and quite un-boyish pissing entities. Each brings its own urination-inspired zest — abjectness, leaking bodily fluids, negation of the phallus, privileging of the cock, and even sex-related group piss play all find their way into this pool party.

A view of the epic pool party (click to enlarge)

Nudd is known for artwork that indulges the gross — slugs, ooze, puss, dangly amorphous shapes with hair attached — but never the grotesque or gory. In that way Nudd’s work is both fairly accessible and not too threatening to the psychosexual order of things, much like the little boy and his playfully flaccid mini-wiener. The only requirement Nudd had for these sculptures is that they all somehow release water in a stream-like fashion; the clear liquid lands in a little swimming pool rather than a gendered urinal or some sort of faux antique fountain. With the exception of a few sculptures that have their own private pissing receptacles — such as Jim Zimpel’s green monster that drips water down its tongue and between two gatekeeper dolls, into a small bowl — the bodies of water are communal.

Marie Walz continues channeling her teen heartthrobs, the band Duran Duran. Her tongue-in-cheek (dick-in-mouth?) contribution suggests what could have happened when Andy Taylor left the band and wrote a tell-all book; in this splash fiction–turned–artwork, the boys are literally quite pissed. The four of them huddle together with zebra-print boots and never-ending pee streams, letting it all out onto a submissive Andy. In the same pool, Tim Ripley’s amorphous white blob covered in tiny colored balls spouts water in a simple, elegant, parabolic curve.

Marie Walz, “Splash Fiction: The Duran Duran Edition” (2013)

Sabina Ott and Michelle Wasson’s sculpture carved from styrofoam (a material Ott works with frequently) spouts water from two square nipples. There’s nothing maternal at all about this bodily leakage, leaving one to wonder what the drips might mean. Edra Soto’s large black seashell pours water from its tip, and in the same pool, Paul Mack’s ceramic pink sculpture looks like a chopped-up heart and small intestines spouting water haphazardly. Bert Stabler’s abject horse-person hybrid bust with slimed-on black hair and a bald top appears to have a feeding tube shoved up its nose — about as far from that plump little Belgian kid as it gets. Appropriately, it’s positioned next to a sculpture of Jesus pissing right after being plucked from a nativity scene.

Sabina Ott and Michelle Wasson’s piece

Catie Olson takes a romp with her bestial Krampus — or Krampiss — the character who brings fear to small children on Krampusnacht, or the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day. Olson portrays Krampus as a beast whose face is covered by a white ceramic mask, branches growing from its head and sprouting from its back. It pees while holding a miniature ceramic version of the “Mannekin Pis” boy, who drips liquid out of fear or delight. Elsewhere in the woods, Sarah Leitten’s androgynous mud person sports dried flowers for hair and pisses from a tiny tube. It has human teeth, but no human fingernails.

Sarah Leitten’s work

To see artists gathering ’round and interpreting the work of a dead white guy is both delightful and a reminder of the very white, heterosexual, male, phallocentric art historical cannon, as well as how important it is to deconstruct, problematize, and reimagine the story to reflect our current times. Because the “norm” still does exist. In this case, Nick Drnaso’s sculpture is what would perhaps be the contemporary Midwestern version of “Mannekin Pis” — an innocent-looking, blonde-haired and blue-eyed farmer boy eerily reminiscent of The Simpsons’ Lard Lad Donuts boy. He looks up into the sky while whizzing away, hands in his pockets, dick just hangin’ in the wind.

Nick Drnaso’s piece (courtesy Antena Gallery)

Little Man’s Pee Pool Party: The Whiz Paddler’s Lament continues at Antena Gallery (1755 S. Laflin St., Chicago) through November 2. 

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...