Monday Feb 19, 2007
Off the Rack
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) took a urinal and rotated it ninety degrees from its normal, functional position.
The artist left the piece unembellished except for the inscription ‘R. Mutt 1917’ and titled it: Fountain.
Was this a joke, a prank, or was it art?
Rejected from an exhibition that was to be open to all works of art sponsored by the Society for Independent Artists in New York, the porcelain urinal was to become the most influential of his ‘readymades’, which radicalized the potential for art making by recasting an ‘as is’ manufactured consumer products as art—an early form of Pop Art.
Another example of seeing art in manufactured goods took place in 1943 when Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) reconfigured a bicycle’s handlebars and seat into a Bull’s Head sculpture.
Was this art? Why is it art?
While others may have observed that a bicycle seat and handlebars when properly aligned resembles a bull’s head, it was Picasso, already confident in his work, who had the nerve to assemble the pieces into a whole.
Would you fare as well with a readymade as did Duchamp and Picasso? It is an important question to answer.