Beyond the Canvas
The revolution of Marcel Duchamp's brilliantly absurd objects
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
If we look at what we know about Western history of art, every period boasts a handful of artists who set out to wage war on tradition in order to give life to something new. These are the artists whose work forever changes the way we look at things reshaping aesthetics and influencing discourses.
The 20th century gave the world a host of movements and manifestos, highlighting the strong link existing between art and ideas. With his iconic Fountain (1917), Marcel Duchamp paved the way for conceptual art challenging both the meaning of art itself and the importance attached to authorship. What's more, his provocative work questioned the conventional notion of the artist as skilled creator. His upside-down urinal, which he signed R. Mutt to preserve anonymity, was famously rejected by the jury of the Society of Independent Artists (on which he also sat) on the grounds that it wasn't a work of art.
Not only did the pissoir defy the idea that art must be beautiful, it also introduced the concept of the readymade. Duchamp assembled mass-produced everyday objects elevating them to the status of work of art simply because he had chosen and signed them. True to the tongue-in-cheek Dada spirit, his approach and creative output were mercilessly groundbreaking, thoroughly nonconformist and refreshingly humorous. His influence is however as undeniable as it is unidentifiable, for no other artist has since been able to reinvent art quite in the same way. Duchamp's legacy thus transcends the boundaries of the artistic domain in that it is one of unbridled intellectual freedom and profound cultural disruption.
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Photo credit: Julian Wasser, Duchamp smoking in front of Fountain. Duchamp Retrospective, Pasadena Art Museum, 1963