The French Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), a member of Dadaism, is an unavoidable reference in the History of contemporary art for being one of the main figures at the forefront of the ruptures with the artistic tradition. To be more precise, we can say that most of the artistic avant-gardes of the 20th century, after 1913, are heirs to Dadaist poetics and, particularly, to its greatest representative, Marcel Duchamp.
Although this artist conceived his first ready-made in 1913, Bicycle Wheel (2), the work with which he really changed the traditional notion of art, of what an artwork is, or of the creative act itself, is a urinal whose the only intervention was to choose it, title it as Fountain (1), 1917, sign it with another name (R. Mutt) and send it to the “Society of Independent Artists of the United States”, of which he was a founding member, which had the objective of organizing annual open exhibitions to any artist who wanted to present their work, without going through the filter of any jury or art critic; but, curiously and paradoxically, the object sent by Duchamp was not well received by its recipients, who after deliberating around this strange proposal considered it more of a mockery — the French artist’s intention at the time — than a piece of content artistic.
Although the original urinal was lost, it transcended, questioning the traditional concept of art and creation. In the 1960s, some replicas were made on behalf of Duchamp, which are exhibited in different museums. Fountain is a fundamental icon in the art of the 20th century, since, we can say, it changed the History of Art, because since then artistic objects are no longer conceived or perceived with the eyes but with the mind.
For Duchamp, an everyday object, by the simple choice of the artist, rises to the dignity of an artwork. The action of thought exerted on objects is the central point of this artist’s reflections. The mental processes, rather than the physical realization of the work, was what interested him. Hence, according to Duchamp, art is a “mental fact”. From this artist, the problem of the work as a concrete thing is displaced by the poetics or the theories that support the work of art or the artistic task. This gives rise to conceptual art, a trend that emerged in the United States in the mid-sixties, which deepens and develops the manifestations of the Dadaists and, specifically, the reflections and conceptions of Marcel Duchamp.
Written by José Gregorio Noroño, curator at Arte Original.
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