Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Duchamp's Urinal Defaced

Speaking of Duchamp's urinal, did any of you see this in today's Chronicle?:

Duchamp bought the urinal in 1917 at a commercial iron works, signed it "R. Mutt," named it "Fountain," and entered it into an avant-garde exhibit in New York, where it was promptly rejected. Poets leapt to its defense, featuring photos of the offending object (by Alfred Stieglitz) in a new magazine called The Blind Man. Mina Loy was also a contributor.

This week, a man was sentenced for attacking the urinal with a hammer, claiming this added to the value of the work by making it an original. The piece is currently valued at $3.4 million.

Fountain is among the most famous of Duchamp's "ready-mades." What would a ready-made poem look like?


melissa said...

Interesting question.
I don't know that a distinction can be made between "ready-made" poems and other forms of "ready-made" art.
The sight of a urinal or a rose could just as readily compel a given person to compose a poem or a painting, given their predilection for either form.
Perhaps the awareness with which we allow ourselves to stop and witness life around us, does not require a poem or a painting at all. One might argue that that ineffable quality (the awareness itself) might act as a "ready-made." In that sense, perhaps a flower or a tree or anything already existing in nature could be seen as one, as well.

rodney k said...

I love your idea of a ready-made acting as a tool for sharpening awareness. It's not the properties that inhere in the object itself (a flower or tree can serve as well as a toilet), but the attention we bring to it. Kind of like John Cage's famous 4'33", where for 4 minutes and 33 seconds the audience is asked to listen to nothing but the surrounding sounds in their environment. Modern art as a means to a new awareness/appreciation of what already exists around us? A kind of anti-art?

Do many of you use found language in your writing? Headlines, advertisements, snippets of overheard conversations, etc.? I wonder how that connects to Duchamp's impulse to sign and display a run-of-the-mill urinal as art. What do you think?

will said...

The found language comment reminded me of this experiment in Slate:
They shaped comments Donald Rumsfeld gave at press conferences into 'free verse'. Some of these are quite good poems (I think my favorite is 'Clarity').

Interestingly enough, Brian Eno claims ( to have urinated in Duchamp's 'Fountain', while it was in the MoMA! And I think this gets to what Duchamp may have intended by calling his urinal 'art': its context, on display in a museum, gives it that distinction. Eno, by urinating in it, restores its original context.

rodney k said...

O my god, I never heard that Eno story before. A pipette!

I think that's a great point about context making art, and Duchamp's "Fountain" drawing our attention to this aspect of aesthetic experience. We're used to calling something "art" when we see it situated in a particular space that gives the objects within it a certain legitimacy. Maybe one aspect of the Modern, in poetry and in art, is questioning the terms of that legitimacy. Working on the context as well as the content.

We're used to calling particular uses of language "poetry" when we're given certain markers as well. I love that Rumsfeld project you link to for the way it brings attention to the signals--the context--that legitimate certain kinds of language as poetry: linebreaks, stanzas, lots of white space, titles, controlled repetition, etc.

What other characteristics mark out certain uses of language for us as "poetic"? And what did the poets we're reading this term--all mavericks in their time--contribute to what counts as a poem today? I for one hear a lot of Stein in the Rumsfeld of "Clarity." Others?