Marcel Duchamp ( 1887-1968 ) , most famous for his ready-made art objects and as a Dadaist, has changed the idea of What is art? then in early 20th century, now and forever by putting(at least tried to) a urine in a gallery in New York.
There is just so much to talk about him and his work, but what fascinates me most is that he introduced ways of seeing into art. Before him, what matters in art had been the aesthetics of representations (signifier). To show something materially was to create art. Duchamp, on the other hand, made an artist invisible from her/his artwork; he took commercially mass-made products out of contexts, sometimes put titles on them, and called them art.
His famous Fountain was sent to the world in1917, and it was about two years after since Duchamp arrived in New York and became a part of New York Dada circle. Together with Picabia, Apollinaire, it was almost like an inside-joke this Dada movement meant. Of course it was born in response to the art before WW1, much to do with aesthetics of machines, but also had lot to do with different industrial culture in New York compared to Paris, and different languages used in both places.
Strange to say, even though he was the director of the exhibition, Fountain, was not accepted to the show, and therefore, never exhibited except for in his studio. It saw its first appearance in the public on the second issue of The Blind Man, magazines published among NY Dadaists, with some texts and an image of the actual work photographed by Alfred Stieglitz. According to that magazine, the urine Duchamp bought at a store, was titled Fountain, and displayed in a way the surface usually attached to the wall is now on the base. Also, it was sighed as R. Mutt, which turned out to be a fictional figure.
It would have been a terrible shock for people at the time especially for the artists. Now we regard so many things as art as long as it is called so, exhibited, or felt so. Duchamp even played with its authorship by signing a different name; of course he did not make the urinal, he just chose it.
To me, it is all about the attitude of mind toward art. Duchamp is stating that art is not created by hands; it is a creation of mind.* Interestingly, we can say almost anything about his work. His art as idea enables us to interpret art as linguistics, mathematics, of course as philosophy, sexuality, just about as anything.
As I mentioned earlier, after Duchamp, the art was never the same as before. He showed that the signified, i.e., the idea behind the signifier is the true essence of art.
* Some art teacher told me something like this long time ago way back in grade school. I put it as a quote for his memory. (I wonder what hes doing now}
lovely internet sites i looked at..
plus notes from "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger