Saturday, January 07, 2006

Why Duchamp is a Genius

I've long been a partisan of the works of Marcel Duchamp. His use of "ready-mades" was one of the touchstones that grounded my academic (and personal) interest in the role of objects in modernist art and literature. So this story in the NYT (via Boing Boing) caught my attention:

PARIS, Jan. 6 - The Dada movement made its name in the early 20th century by trying to destroy the conventional notion of art. Taking literal inspiration from their exploits this week, a latter-day neo-Dadaist took a small hammer to Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain," the factory-made urinal that is considered the cornerstone of Conceptual Art.

The assailant, a French performance artist named Pierre Pinoncelli, was immediately arrested after his act of vandalism, which took place on Wednesday, during the final days of the "Dada" exhibition at the Pompidou Center. The porcelain urinal was slightly chipped in the attack and was withdrawn to be restored. (The exhibition runs through Monday.)

Mr. Pinoncelli, 77, who urinated into the same urinal and struck it with a hammer in a show in Nîmes in 1993, has a long record of organizing bizarre happenings. Police officials said he again called his action a work of art, a tribute to Duchamp and other Dada artists.

Forget the conceptual gamesmanship, everything that you could say about chance or the role of the audience in constructing, constituting, or attempting to destroy the artwork, all of the rehashed crap about the modernist avant-garde closing the distance between art and everyday life, or the role of gesture (on behalf of the artist) and institutional valuation (on behalf of the artwork).

The reason why Duchamp is a genius is this: what other masterpieces in the history of art since the Renaissance could be both pissed on and taken a hammer to and come away "only slightly chipped"? Duchamp has really created a work of art that genuinely endures the ravages of time.

Then again, Pierre Pinoncelli is 77 years old. So he couldn't have been swinging the hammer too hard.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought the whole thing was brilliant, and arresting this guy for vandalism is just sooo not in the spirit of the artwork in the first place. (the guy also apparently cut off his pinky finger with an axe as an act of art? that's hard core.)