Listening to Art

06.01: Marcel Duchamp, Fountain


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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume six, number one: Fountain by Marcel Duchamp.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

We begin volume six with two recordings of reproductions of the same work by Marcel Duchamp, the greatest artist of the twentieth century. This work, Fountain, from 1917, was selected in 2004 in a poll of 500 British art experts as the greatest art work of the twentieth century. That is in spite of the fact that it was never exhibited and the original was lost.

Fountain is one of Duchamp’s “readymades,” which surrealist André Breton defined as “manufactured objects promoted to the dignity of art through the choice of the artist.” Duchamp once described a readymade (I quote from the relevant entry in The Duchamp Dictionary, by Thomas Girst) as “a work of art without an artist to make it.”

In 1917 Duchamp was living in New York and was head of the hanging committee for the first exhibition of the newly formed Society of Independent Artists. The rule was that any member of the Society could exhibit two works. About a week before the show, Duchamp bought what he would call Fountain in the J.L. Mott Iron Works on Fifth Avenue. He submitted it pseudonymously under the name R. Mutt, along with the required membership and entry fees. It was rejected. There was an enormous controversy. Duchamp, without then admitting he was behind it, resigned his position. Alfred Stieglitz photographed Fountain, and that is the only record we have of it, because it was soon lost. This reproduction dates from 1964.

This is a sculpture, white earthenware with ceramic glaze and oil paint, fitting in a volume roughly 48 cm wide, 38 cm high and 63.5 cm deep.

Now let’s listen to Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, recorded at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris, on 15 July 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Girst, Thomas. The Duchamp Dictionary. London: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

Jury, Louise. “‘Fountain’ Most Influential Piece of Modern Art.” The Independent, 02 December 2004. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/fountain-most-influential-piece-of-modern-art-673625.html.

Tomkins, Calvin. Duchamp: A Biography. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Fountain (Duchamp),” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_(Duchamp).

Wikipedia, s.v. “Marcel Duchamp,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Duchamp.