I went to London Tate to see a piece named: The Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. Marcel was a well respected artist that turned art on its head and made us question what the purposes of art should be used for.
Marcel Duchamp arrived in the United States less than two years prior to the creation of Fountain and had become involved with Dada, an anti-rational, anti-art cultural movement, in New York City. The artist brought the urinal to his studio at 33 West 67th Street, reoriented it to a position 90 degrees from its normal position of use, and wrote on it, “R. Mutt 1917”.
At the time Duchamp was a board member of the Society of Independent Artists. After much debate by the board members (most of whom did not know Duchamp had submitted it) about whether the piece was or was not art, Fountain was hidden from view during the show. Duchamp resigned from the Board in protest.
He had a very strong message to make:
Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view and in turn created a new thought for that object.
In defense of the work being art, Wood also wrote, “The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.” Duchamp described his intent with the piece was to shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation.
Shortly after its initial exhibition, Fountain was lost. According to Duchamp biographer Calvin Tomkins, the best guess is that it was thrown out as rubbish by Stieglitz, a common fate of Duchamp’s early ‘readymades’. The first reproduction of Fountain was authorized by Duchamp in 1950 for an exhibition in New York; two more individual pieces followed in 1953 and 1963, and then an artist’s multiple was manufactured in an edition of eight in 1964.
One of these editions ended up in the Tate Modern and I managed to get down and see it. The piece must have looked so contemporary in duchamps time, a total contrast to design in that era. Making it more about the message than the piece in someways. I respect Duchamp for challenging our perceptions of art and its use & function, looking at Marcel Duchamps work opened up a whole new set of doors as I then started to read into the works of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roland Barthes through the world of Linguistics & Semeotics.
I believe that there should be more people like this in our day and I hope to discover some during my lifetime of design. Challenge Everything! Knowledge is Power!