Ryan Gander
To employ the mistress… It’s a French toff thing, 2015
Marble drinking fountain

Every day we see it, drink it, feel it, wash in it. It courses through our bodies, our society and our planet. It makes up 60% of us and we can only live a few days without it. Water is our lifeblood, yet it is often taken for granted. Time to view it through a few different lenses. 

As part of our Invisible Worlds programme, we are thrilled to present this artwork and drinking fountain by the internationally established artist Ryan Gander.  

Connecting the everyday, the esoteric, the overlooked and the commonplace, Ryan Gander’s ‘To employ the mistress… It’s a French toff thing’, 2015, is a marble drinking fountain fabricated in the likeness of his wife Rebecca, leaning in for a kiss with the artist, and playfully spitting water. 

The sculpture plays with the tradition of fountains in classical gardens, where mythological divinities, imaginary animals and other strange creatures are turned into whimsical 'natural' springs. Gander extends this historical sculptural practice by inserting a living person's representation into a contemporary public garden and inviting adventurous visitors to drink from her mouth. 

This sculpture was originally commissioned by the High Line, New York. Ryan Gander OBE was born in Chester in 1976. 

About the artist

Ryan Gander has established an international reputation through artworks that materialise in many different forms – from sculpture to film, writing, graphic design, installation, performance and more besides. Through associative thought processes that connect the everyday and the esoteric, the overlooked and the commonplace, Gander’s work involves a questioning of language and knowledge, as well as a reinvention of both the modes of appearance and the creation of an artwork. His work can be reminiscent of a puzzle, or a network with multiple connections and the fragments of an embedded story. It is ultimately a huge set of hidden clues to be deciphered, encouraging viewers to make their own associations and invent their own narrative in order to unravel the complexities staged by the artist.

Ryan Gander (born 1976, Chester, UK) lives and works in Suffolk and London. He studied at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, Netherlands; and the Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht, Netherlands. The artist has been a Professor of Visual Art at the University of Huddersfield and holds an honorary Doctor of the Arts at the Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Suffolk. In 2017 he was awarded an OBE for services to contemporary art. Recent solo shows have been held at the National Museum of Art Osaka, Osaka, Japan (2017); Hyundai Gallery, Seoul, South Korea (2017); Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium (2016); Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO, USA (2016); Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada (2015); Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia (2015); Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore, Singapore (2015); and Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, UK (2014). Major projects include Sydney Biennale 2018, Sydney, Australia; Performa 15, New York, NY, USA; British Art Show 8, Leeds, UK; Panorama, High Line, New York, USA; Imagineering, Okayama Castle, Okayama, Japan; ‘The artists have the keys’, 2 Willow Road, London, UK; Unlimited, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland; Parcours, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland; Esperluette, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany; ‘Locked Room Scenario’, commissioned by Artangel, London, UK; ILLUMInations at the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; ‘Intervals’ at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA; and ;The Happy Prince;, Public Art Fund, Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park, New York, NY, USA.