Robert Arneson, The Pisser, 1963

Robert Arneson
The Pisser
Stoneware, 1963
51 x 27 1/2 x 11 inches
Gift of the LAM Contemporary Collectors Council and David Freund
Robert Arneson produced a series of “Johns” in the 1960s including The Pisser, a work that embodies many of the ideas central to the artist’s early work. For all its seeming vulgarity, The Pisser offers many humorous comments on the art dialogue of the early 1960s. For one, it comments on the art world distinction between ceramics and sculpture, as well as between high and low art.
With its emphasis on sexual organs, bodily functions, and scatologically expressive shapes, the slouchy handmade toilet is also a clever inversion of the clean formality and conceptual purity inherent in Marcel Duchamp’s famous 1917 Fountain. As the punning title implies, Arneson also succeeds in being “a pisser” or bad boy himself, by going against traditional standards of beauty and accepted conventions. In addition, the handling of the clay—the finger marks left on the phallus on top of the sculpture, for example—seems to be poking fun at the characteristic handling of clay by abstract expressionist sculptors.
With its numerous references and comments on other artists’ work, perhaps what The Pisser does best is to steal into the arena of high art and plunk down in its presence a funky, funhouse mirror image of itself.