Art &Technology
- Marcel Duchamp

"What I have in mind is that art might be good, bad or indifferent; however we have to call it art no matter what adjective we use; that thus bad art is art in the same sense as a bad feeling is still a feeling."

(Marcel Duchamp: The Creative Process. 1957)

Marcel Duchamp: Fountain. 1959

Fig.: Marcel Duchamp: Fountain. 1959

Fig.: Marcel Duchamp: Fountain. 1917

"Duchamp’s urinal with the title 'Fountain' is an example for the examination of the material and immaterial language of the work of art. The case that observers do not know the everyday-function and analyse the form (there is one case known where this occurred at a girl’s high-school) is an exception. Form and material can please by themselves, however the object remains one that was industrially produced, that is intended for the man's lavatory and that is functional; the completely identical urinals that belong to the same series are far from being considered art. In contrast to the “Maenneken Piss” (i.e. little peeing man) in Brussels that in its content corresponds with the activity of peeing, is a shaped sculpture on a fountain and is therefore traditionally accepted as product of art.

What is it then that distinguishes the offer of art 'Fountain' from the functional product urinal? Visible changes that were carried out by Duchamp and appear as material language, are the signature (R. Mutt 1917), the presentation (the backside lying on a pedestal - compare with the historical photo by Stieglitz for the journal 391), the place of presentation (not a sanitation shop-window, not a washroom - but an exhibition, museum - compare to a picture of Marcel Duchamp where he sits in front of the object in the Pasadena Art Museum, Los Angeles 1963), the giving of the title as information about the context. The gesture of exhibition is appropriate for art; the declaration of the object as a work of art conveys (as immaterial language) the respective receptive impulse. That the realisation of the gesture (the opportunity for exhibition) is a crucial factor of the artistic language, was made apparent by Duchamp in an ironic and provocative way: his object that he anonymously submitted to the committee of the 'Society of Independent Artists' was rejected in 1917. It was only exhibited (and accepted) when Duchamp (who himself belonged to the board of the committee) became known as its originator. The (general) acceptance of Duchamp is transferred to the object and makes it possible (through the reaction of the recipient) that an 'artistic aura' is bestowed on it."

(Dietrich Grünewald, Institute for the Theory of Arts, University Koblenz-Landau, Germany)

On the occasion of an exhibition in the Walker Art Center in 1965, Martin Friedman had an interview with Marcel Duchamp.

Fig.: Duchamp, Marcel, de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sélavy (Boîte-en-Valise)
(From or By Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy [Box in a Valise]), 1941/1966, glass, vinyl, lithographs on paper, ceramic, wood, cloth-covered board. Collection Walker Art Center, Gift of Ann and Barrie Birks, 1994

Martin Friedman, Walker Art Center director interviews Marcel Duchamp on the occasion of the exhibition Not Seen and/or Less Seen of/by Marcel Duchamp/Rose Selavy on the 18th October of 1965.

1. On Revolutionary Spirit, 1965 (3:24)
2. On Humour, 1965 (0:47)
2. On the Idea of a Ready-Made, 1965 (3:07)

Marcel Duchamp was born in 1887, in Blaineville, and died in 1968, in Neuilly. His early work ranged through all the styles of the times, from post-Impressionism to Fauvism, and then to work that seems to relate both to Cubism and to Futurism, even though he himself declared that his interests lay elsewhere. His relation with the Cubists was indeed shot through with conflict, as seen in the objections that led to his withdrawal of his Nude Descending a Staircase from the 28th Salon des Indépendants, which was held in Paris in February 1912. This work however was to make him famous when shown the following year in New York at the Armory Show.
Duchamp, moreover, was not really happy as a painter; or he knew that the investigation of his own most basic concepts and presuppositions required a series of instruments much more radical than anything painting could offer. He therefore decided in 1913 to abandon painting, and turned his attention for the next ten years to his "Large Glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even", which he definitively declared unfinished in 1923.
Duchamp is of course most famous as the man who drew a mustache and goatee on the Mona Lisa, then to complete the affront by adding a salacious caption: L. H. O. O. Q. (which reads Elle a chaud au cul). Or he's the man who mounted a bicycle wheel upside down on a kitchen stool, or who turned a bottle dryer or a urinal or a snow shovel into a work of art, simply by deciding that this is what he wanted them to be. Still today, such gestures are often described as provocations, though surely it's hard to say just whom they might have been intended to provoke. Duchamp's audience was extremely small, and he exhibited his work as little as possible. He speaks of L. H. O. O. Q. as a kind of Dada joke, perpetrated with Picabia's col-laboration and published on the cover of Picabia's magazine 391, and surely the urinal "Fountain" was sent with malice aforethought to the exhibition in 1917 of New York's Society of Independent Artists, yet still the fact remains that the history of his various Ready-mades is largely a history of the ways in which they went astray. The originals of the Bicycle Wheel of 1913, the Bottle Dryer of 1914, the snow shovel In Advance of the Broken Arm of 1915, the urinal Fountain of 1917, the Underwood "Traveler's Folding Item" of 1916 have all been lost, and the same holds true of much of the rest of this period of Duchamp's work. Though vastly admired by the Dadaists and Futurists, he was mainly famous, up until the 1940s, for his public renunciation of art in favor of playing tour-nament chess.


Further Reading:

Cabanne, Pierre: Duchamp & Co, Paris 1997

Daniels, Dieter: Duchamp und die anderen. Der Modellfall einer künstlerischen Wirkungsgeschichte in der Moderne, Köln 1992

Fischer, Alfred M., Daniels, Dieter (eds.): Übrigens sterben immer die anderen. Marcel Duchamp und die Avantgarde seit 1950, Köln 1988

D'Harnoncourt, Anne and McShine, Kynaston (ed.): Marcel Duchamp. New York 1973 (München 1989)

Molderings, Herbert: Marcel Duchamp, Frankfurt/M. 1983

Schwarz, Arturo, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp (1969): London, New York 1995