Piece Of The Week: Fountain // Marcel Duchamp


For this week’s Piece Of The Week, I thought it only appropriate to celebrate someone whom could be considered the godfather of contemporary art, and conceptualism (no sniggering please).

If you didn’t guess that I’m speaking of Duchamp, then you’ll be forgiven. If you didn’t guess Fountain, well, that’s a bit harder to forgive.

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp is this week’s Piece Of The Week.

There is a lot that can be said about Fountain, and I don’t say that lightly. Fountain is probably one of the most important, if not the most important pieces of art ever – at least of the 20th Century. There are so many reasons for this:

Fountain changed the art world forever. It was said that it wasn’t art (not that the moans of ‘this isn’t art’ don’t still arise), to which Duchamp challenged with ‘what is art?’.

Duchamp, if we had to categorise him would be a Dadaist, and the aim of Dadaism was to challenge, and shock not only the stuffy art institutions, but the general public too. Think of The YBAs and how much they used shock value, Dadaists did this long before them; and none of them so much as Duchamp.

When we think of a Fountain, we think of something quaint, pretty and usually impressive (i.e. Rome). We don’t think of a men’s urinal. Yet this is exactly what Fountain is, it’s a urinal with R. Mutt written on it.

One of the criticisms that comes with Fountain, is ‘but he didn’t make it’ and whilst there’s some merit behind this, it’s not the point of this piece. If the point were to be that all art should be made by the artist, then there wouldn’t be ready-made paints. Duchamp conceived the idea, he declared it was art, and that was it. Without the idea, nothing matters. That is what conceptualism is.

No longer does art have to be a portrait, or a landscape. Art can be anything; it can be an idea that’s manifested in whichever way the artist wishes. Without Fountain we wouldn’t have Emin’s My Bed, we wouldn’t have any Rothko paintings, we wouldn’t have any of the art from the 20s onwards.

It’s difficult to really put into words how important Fountain is, at least without writing a dissertation length piece. Fountain really marks a change in the way art can be produced, what art can be, and a change in the way of artistic thinking. Fountain changed everything, and to this day it’s still changing perspectives.

The next time you see a piece that you don’t understand, read what it’s about. The next time you see a piece that you think you could have done it yourself, remember you didn’t actually do it and think of Duchamp.

Words by Selene Mortimore


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