How Duchamp revolutionized modern art
Fountain is arguably the most controversial single work of art in the 20th century. Yet the original was nothing more than an ordinary urinal purchased from a plumbing store, turned on its side, and signed with the name “R. Mutt.” That was the pseudonym Marcel Duchamp used when he submitted the urinal to the 1917 Society for Independent Artists’ Exhibit. At the time, committee members proclaimed that all submitted works would be shown.
Of course when I sent it to the organizers of the Independents – because Independent shows are not supposed to have any jury. They just rejected it. They refused it, put it behind a partition during the whole show. It was very dramatic in a way. All that for a urinal.
Fountain was one of several everyday objects Duchamp selected, then displayed as fine art. He called them “readymades”, and they suggested that the idea of an artwork could be as important as originality, craft, or beauty. This radical new way of thinking about art opened the way for generations of artists to come.
I think there was definitely a scandalous intent. I think he knew that people would object to this. But I’ve always felt they would have objected to pretty much anything- any of the readymades at that time.
Art historians Michael Taylor and Francis Nauman, in conversation.
Well, part of the idea of the readymades, of course, from the beginning, was that they were not to have any aesthetic quality.
Aesthetic quality, right.
He said that if he picked a readymade that was for the purpose of being beautiful, he would be falling into the same routine that others who would – let’s say find driftwood on the beach. He would be picking them for beauty and as a result, it would be entering as he said, into the plane of aesthetics like everything else, like sculpture. And he wanted it to be divorced from that. The only problem is that people were too used to looking at art for the purpose of finding beauty in it.
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