North Carolina Museum Of Art Adds New Exhibit “Leesville Bathroom” (Satire)

Leesville Bathroom, dubbed by its artist as the “most transformative piece of art ever” opened to the public last year. Several people have said they enjoyed the exhibit. (Photo Courtesy of Blase Harriss)

A New Exhibit

Recently, the North Carolina Museum of Art accepted a new modern art piece– a full scale replica of a Leesville Road High school bathroom, complete with working toilets, sinks, and fire alarms.

The exhibit, Leesville Bathroom, has many features:  it has two sides — one mens and one womens — and has stalls and urinals like a typical bathroom. However, it also contains many fruits, sauce packets, and toilet paper strands littered about the exhibit and draped over the stalls. Some of the fruits are stuck to the ceiling, and there are only three unclogged toilets.

Despite these roadblocks, however, the bathroom is perfectly usable. 

Mash E. Haver, NCMA director, said, “The bathroom is typically used… at least once every month? There’s lots of visitors, lots of photographers who marvel at its groundbreaking ingenuity, but few are… bold enough to take part in the artist’s creative vision.

“We do not clean it… like you would a typical bathroom. To do so would compromise the integrity of the artist’s creative vision. We never scrub the toilets, wash the floors… We must always… preserve art to the best of our ability to make sure its legacy is there for future generations to experience,” Haver said.

The Creator’s Vision

The creator of this piece, Gared R. Ralphenstein, has a video online explaining his art and what it represents.

In the video, Ralphenstein stated, “Leesville Bathroom is a representation of human creativity, specifically of the creativity of students, and how people can make such incredible art in typically bland places. A bathroom is, to the uninitiated, bland and boring. But once people get creative and really start thinking out of the box, they realize its true potential, and that’s when the bathroom really shines. That’s when the students really shine.”

In addition to human creativity, another cornerstone of Ralfenstein’s piece is its focus on realism. Ralfenstein believes that in order to capture the essence of human creativity, the exhibit must be as true to life as possible.

Haver said, “In order to make the space physically identical to a school bathroom, we have installed within the exhibit two fully functional smoke detectors connected to NCMA’s fire alarm system.”

Haver said, “We’ve seen an uptick in fire alarms of about 300% throughout this year since we added the Leesville exhibit to our gallery… and though it’s certainly been quite a relief for our office staff to get outside more often, it’s been quite the hassle.”

“Due to the costs of the fire department checking for fires every few days and billing us for it, we’re now considering closing one of the sides with some tape… so half of the exhibit will still be open… and placing a security guard there to monitor people going in and out,” Haver said.

Haver believes that his new measures will effectively reduce fire alarm rates back to expected levels.

What People Think

Lavia Rester, an employee at MCMA, has seen and spoken to the artist Ralphenstein himself. She said, “Occasionally the guy will come in here… and say something about needing to ‘fulfill his creative vision,’ and then he’ll go in the bathroom and set off the fire alarm with a vape pen…”

“I don’t like that guy, or his exhibit… he’s weird. The staff let him off the hook because he’s the artist… but I don’t think anyone else agrees with his creative vision,” Rester said.

Despite problems with the exhibit and some peoples’ grievances against the artist, Leesville Bathroom is an incredibly popular exhibit.

Argyle Watson, a visitor of the NCMA, said, “I like hanging out in the Leesville exhibit sometimes… me and my friends, we’ll get together and chill in there, just talking about life…” 

“It’s a really social space. I think it really brings people together and creates a positive atmosphere. To me, this exhibit represents humanity’s ability to be social and have fun with each other even in the most grimy and disgusting of places. I wish there were more. I don’t know why anyone hasn’t thought of this before,” Watson said.

The exhibit regularly attracts crowds of up to six hundred people a day and is one of the most popular exhibits NCMA has ever installed — right next to Ralphenstein’s other major art installation, Student Parking Lot.


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