18 January 2007
If you read the post about Alfred Stieglitz´ letter to "The Blind Man",
please continue here.
This is the story, so well told, from a "DEBATE PAPER - Due in class,
Wednesday, November 28" at the Depauw University.
"Marcel Duchamp was a member of the Exhibitions Committee of
the Independent Society of Artists in New York City when, in 1917,
said Committee elected to hold a JURY-FREE EXHIBITION: this meant
that there would be no juror, no one authority deciding what could or
could not enter (what was or was not art): anyone could enter, and
anyone could enter anything, and it would be exhibited.
Without the knowledge of any of the members of the Independent
Society of Artists, Duchamp retrieved a men’s urinal, signed it
“R. Mutt,” and sent it into the show from Pennsylvania with a letter
signed “Richard Mutt,” signaling the title of the work as “Fountain.”
At the next meeting of the Independent Society of Artists, “Fountain”
was dismissed as inadmissible to the show. Duchamp protested that
the work should be admitted and exhibited because of the promise
and the premise of the jury-free show (that anyone could enter,
and that anyone could enter anything). The other artists still refused,
and Duchamp resigned in protest.
In his resignation letter, Duchamp wrote: “Whether Mr. Mutt with
his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose
it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful
significance disappeared under the new title and point of view and
created a new thought for that object.”
Duchamp then took “Fountain” to Gallery 291 (a gallery run by the
photographer Alfred Steiglitz which exhibited work by avant-garde
artists such as Picasso and Matisse) and, presenting the piece as
the work of one R. Mutt, asked Stieglitz to photograph it. Stieglitz
did so, and published the photograph in the periodical Camera Work.
Stieglitz then told him to get that “thing” out of his gallery and by all
means throw it away. Duchamp did, having proven his point (to himself
and no one else).
The Independent Society of Artists never guessed that the artist of
“Fountain” was Marcel Duchamp. Indeed no one knew, until Duchamp
himself told the story in the 1950s. The idea behind “Fountain” then
fully seized the imagination of many and Duchamp was asked to make
“Fountain” again. Not only did he make dozens of “Fountains”,
he also always signed them “R. Mutt, 1917.”
And have a look at this debate in The Blind Man.