I have developed a tendency to awaken early of late. When this happens, I may get up and read, or write, or watch the special features on a DVD. Sometime I'll have to tell you what happened to the Time Machine after the movie was completed in 1960. Other times I may just lie abed and ponder the Big Questions, such as why does the phrase, "early of late," used so cleverly in the opening sentence of this post, make sense, but the phrase "late of early" does not? Today, I awoke with visions of, not sugar plums, but a urinal dancing in my head. Yes, I have reached an age where the prostate gland looms ever larger on the horizon, much as Vladimir Putin "raises his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America," according to Sarah Palin (this memorable word salad occurs 59 seconds into the clip below of her interview with Katie Couric in 2008). But I was not thinking of a porcelain fixture because of a personal plumbing obstruction. I have not yet joined that jolly band of "guys" (as aging male baby booomers with problems below the belt are invariably called in TV commercials) who frequently must interrupt an ocean kayaking adventure with their buddies (other "guys") to look for a restroom onshore. It's interesting to me that the men in ads for prostate-shrinking drugs are a hale and hearty group, attending baseball games or bicycling across country, and not old coots in motorized chairs who have to take a break from the early bird special at Old Country Buffet to relieve themselves. No, they're all convivial, active "guys."
But enough of that. The reason I brought up the subject of urinals is I want to discuss the dada artist, Marcel Duchamp. As I have pointed out on numerous previous occasions, the blog Lugubrious Drollery is built on a rickety foundation of scant knowledge and an utter lack of expertise, particularly when it comes to the subject of art. This was perhaps best illustrated in the previous post, "The Avant-Garde Nature of Winky Dink," wherein I compared Monsieur Duchamp to a 1950s television cartoon character.
Tonsure. Marcel Duchamp with haircut by George de Zayas, Paris, 1919. Photo by Man Ray.
My interest in Duchamp was reignited by a connection between one of his more notorious works and a piece of statuary on the courthouse square in Goshen, Indiana. Duchamp's piece is called simply "Fountain" and the Goshen piece is the "Neptune Fountain" or "Poseidon Fountain," and has been discussed here in two recent posts, "Monochrome Fountain," and "Neptune in the Heartland." One thing I found particularly fascinating is that both pieces came from the J.L. Mott Iron Works in New York City. This company produced statues as well as more utilitarian items like stoves, cast iron store fronts, and plumbing fixtures.
People with no more self-respect than to read this blog on a regular basis will appreciate that the author becomes easily fatigued when trying to compose fresh prose and frequently resorts to lifting text from other web sites. Let the current half-hearted effort be no exception! I quote from the article "Idol Thoughts," by Jerry Saltz, in the Feb. 21, 2006 Village Voice. I admire this article if for no other reason than the caption under a picture of Duchamp's urinal: Dada, where's the bathroom? Now there's a title worthy of a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon or an episode of "My Mother the Car."
In the winter of 1917, Duchamp—then 29, in America less than two years, teaching French, but still a sensation for the scandal his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 caused at the Armory Show of 1913 (the year he created his first "readymade")—along with collector Walter Arensberg and artist Joseph Stella, bought a Bedfordshire model urinal from the J.L. Mott Iron Works at 118 Fifth Avenue. Duchamp took the fixture to his studio at 33 West 67th Street, laid it on its back, and signed it "R. Mutt 1917." The name is a play on its commercial origins and also on the famous comic strip of the time, Mutt and Jeff (making the urinal perhaps the first work of art based on a comic). In German, armut means poverty, although Duchamp said the R stood for Richard, French slang for "moneybags"...Mr. Saltz goes on to explain how Duchamp submitted "Fountain" to an exhibit put on by the Society of Independent Artists. Everything submitted was supposed to be displayed, but the Independent Artists made an exception in Duchamp's case. Maybe he would have done better with the Society of Incontinent Artists. In any event, "Fountain" went missing after the exhibit. Duchamp eventually authorized eight replacements. Saltz reported in his article that on January 4, 2006, 77-year-old French performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli took a hammer to one of Duchamp's Fountains, valued at 3.4 million dollars, at a dada show at the Pompidous Center. This wasn't his first assault on Duchamp's work. In 1993, the iconoclastic Monsieur Pinoncelli urinated into "Fountain" and damaged it. Perhaps if he were on a drug to decrease the size of his prostate, he would be less irritable and instead of attacking pricy plumbing fixtures, could spend his time bicycling around the French countryside with other "guys," unimpeded by the need to stop at every pissoir along the way.
Duchamp set off a debate on the nature of art that continues to this day. Can found objects really be considered art? Is something art just because the artist says it is? Is Duchamp chortling up his sleeve in dada heaven to think that someone would consider paying 3.4 million dollars for something that he couldn't even get displayed at an art exhibit in 1917?
I'd like to stay and discuss this further, but I need to visit the restroom.