On the eve of Hong Kong’s most important art festivals, Art Basel and Art Central, #legend acknowledges the 100th anniversary of a work that became the first artistic icon of the 20th century.
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) is by far the most famous of his so-called “readymade” sculptures – whereby he took ordinary mass-produced objects and presented them in the gallery, a fact he said made them works of art. “Art is whatever an artist says is art, not what critics say art is,” he declared.
Duchamp had the idea for the piece following a discussion with collector Walter Arensburg and artist Joseph Stella. He bought the urinal from a plumbers’ merchants, signed it “R. Mutt 1917”, one of his pseudonyms, and submitted it to an exhibition organised by the Society of Independent Artists in New York. Duchamp and Arensburg were on the society’s board of directors.
Fountain saw Duchamp move from art maker to art curator. The work was seen as an assault on the conventions and status of art and its very nature. What is art? What is an artist’s role? What could this possibly mean?
So, art lovers, do take a moment and consider Duchamp’s lavatorial work as you sashay around the city’s artistic shrines this month.