About the Fountain
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (urinal) created in 1917, is one of the pieces that he called ready-mades (commonly known as found art). He signed it R. Mutt. One theory suggests R.Mutt may be a play on the German word Armut, meaning poverty. Duchamp submitted the piece to the “unjuried” 1917 Society of Independent Artists (of which he was a board member) exhibition, and it was rejected as “not being art.” (He resigned from the board shortly after the incident.)
In defense of the work being art, Beatrice Wood wrote “The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.” Duchamp described his purpose with the piece as shifting the focus of art from the physical craft to the intellectual interpretation. In many ways, Fountain is a commentary on the Venus of Willendorf’s exhibition as art. Duchamp suggests that the purpose of the Venus is unknown and it could have been an everyday object; we might as well exhibit a urinal as art.
This act is widely considered to be the starting point of conceptual art. In December 2004, Duchamp’s Fountain was voted the most influential art work of the 20th century by 500 of the most powerful people in the British art world. This is testimony to the influence of Duchamp’s work, and the mark he has left on the art world.
The original piece was lost and in 1964. Duchamp signed eight new pieces that are now part of the Fountain series. The US have their own, hence the continuation of the Dada exibition at The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (till May 14th) and at the Moma in NY (June 18th–911), will not feature Pinoncelli’s Duchamp.
January 6th 2006, he did it again. The artist and performer known as Pinoncelli, now 77, successfully attacked the Duchamp Fountain (urinal) with a hammer, while on display at the immense Dada exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This former manager of a flower seeds factory in south east France still manages to bring on uneasiness in certain people. As a joke, I told Laurent Lebon, Pompidou Center’s curator of the Dada show, that Pinoncelli had already bought his plane ticket to Washington, where the same Dada will be on view from February 19th. He was stunned and not amused. Laurent Lebon actually received a long threatening letter from Pinoncelli as the exhibition opened in Paris: considering it as an insult not to be mentioned next to Duchamp as co-author of the Fountain exhibited (in reference to a performance he conducted in 1993 when he urinated into the piece and attacked it with a hammer, while it was on display in Nimes, in southern France) and he made promise of action (multiple). Lebon asked for heavy weight security bouncers to stand by the Fountain, as he wanted it exhibited without a papal-like glass cage. Pinoncelli got through.
“When I met Duchamp. I told him of my plan to destroy the urinal. He encouraged me.”
Pierre Doze: You have been hit a lot harder this time around – 3 months of prison on probation and a fine of 200,000 Euros ($260,000).
Pierre Pinoncelli: It’s heresy. You can’t fix a Ready Made. That’s a complete negation of Duchamp’s principles! Yet they fixed it and displayed it, and made no mention of the its history or my action. I don’t consider vandalism to be my specialty. I don’t have an inherent interest in destruction. Yet, tranquility is not much my taste either. I had the choice of spending the last of my days peacefully or actively. I chose the option of activity, the heroic character. I decided t not to say anything to my wife or children. After my previous attack on the Fountain, I had promised that that would be the last. They are all very angry. This time is one time too many. Seen from the outside, this can all seem very funny. Yet at home, even after my first action, it was a disaster: The house was mortgaged, provisional prosecution measures taken; constant visits from bailiffs … at that time, only your kids see you as Zorro.
PD: You seem to have been moved from an art context to a news item. Are you not concerned that this Fountain will be your coffin, and that your name will be no more than an accessory to Duchamp’s work.
PP: In 67, I was in NY for the opening of an Yves Klein exhibition at the Jewish Museum. I was disguised as a blue man, which made the headlines of the Village Voice. This is when I met Duchamp. I told him of my plan to destroy the urinal. He encouraged me. Now for the first time in my life I have a criminal record. Even back when I held up a bank, they didn’t do this to me.
PD: Do you see regression?
PP: That this Institutional Museum stays silent as to the history of this piece, that’s pretty lame. I am quite aware that the stakes are much higher. Dada, Duchamp, and the Pompidou Center, that’s quite high. I had killed the urinal. It was nothing more than a serialized object, without a past, no scars, all smooth. I managed to get away with it the first time in 93, by making the insurance company that was after me understand that you can’t go after an artist. This time, they didn’t miss their shot. My lawyer is more or less optimistic. I’m going to have to pay high.