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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Suggested Readings for MA Previous/ Marcel Duchamp

For 'Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp;

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the painter and mixed media artist, was associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism, though he avoided any alliances. Duchamp’s work is characterized by its humor, the variety and unconventionality of its media, and its incessant probing of the boundaries of art. His legacy includes the insight that art can be about ideas instead of worldly things, a revolutionary notion that would resonate with later generations of artists.

Duchamp’s most notorious readymade was a manufactured urinal entitled Fountain. Conceived for a show promoting avant-garde art, Fountain took advantage of the show’s lack of juried panels, which invariably excluded forward-looking artists.

Under a pseudonym, “R. Mutt,” Duchamp submitted Fountain. It was a prank, meant to taunt his avant-garde peers. For some of the show’s organizers this was too much — was the artist equating modern art with a toilet fixture? — and Fountain was “misplaced” for the duration of the exhibition. It disappeared soon thereafter.

As surely as it was a prank, Fountain was also, like the other readymades, a calculated attack on the most basic conventions of art. Duchamp defended the piece in an unsigned article in The Blind Man, a one-shot magazine published by his friend Beatrice Wood. To the charge that Fountain was mere plagiarism, “a plain piece of plumbing,” he replied “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view — created a new thought for that object.”

At the time, almost nobody understood what Duchamp was talking about. But fifty years later everyday objects would be commonplace in art.

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