Marcel Duchamp. Fountain 1917, replica 1964 @ Tate Modern.
Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ is a game changer. It represents the moment when what seemed like a hoax turned out to be the original conceptual art masterpiece.
Duchamp originally submitted ‘Fountain’ to the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. He had earlier helped found the society up and implement a new and democratic way of selecting artists for exhibitions. Duchamp entered the work under the pseudonym ‘R.Mutt’ to remain anonymous. Ironically ‘Fountain’ seemed to push the envelope a little too far as it was rejected by the group as “indecent” and lacking artistic merit. Duchamp subsequently resigned from the society in protest.
Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ challenges our idea of ordinariness. By taking a common item and placing it in an art museum the artwork challenges our preconceived value system. If a standard urinal can suddenly become as valuable as a Fabergé egg, then value based on rarity is undermined. Vice versa, everyday objects gain more status. It epitomises the way great art has the power to make us look at the world in a new way.
‘Fountain’ was championed by a new generation of artists in the 1950’s and 1960’s and gained iconic status as the first conceptual artwork. The artwork continues to have a strong influence on artists today and can be considered a contemporary art masterpiece.
‘Fountain’ can be seen in the Natalie Bell Building at Tate Modern, Room 4, Level 4 West within the ‘Explore Materials and Objects’ display, Indiana University Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada and Centre Georges Pompidou.