Friday, January 27, 2006

Duchamp/Art Questions

1. I've been reading a biography of Peggy Guggenheim, and a few days ago I came across a little blurb about Duchamp's "Fountain". Like, one sentence. I can't remember why it was mentioned, but I've been marinating over it ever since. A lot has been said about the "R. Mutt" on the outside of the bowl, usually about it as a name, but the one thing this guy said about it was that "R. Mutt" may have been a reference to the German word "armut," meaning "poverty." Despite all the reading, all the classes, and all the research I've done for art history, I have NEVER come across this before. Not even a little hint of it. So for the past few days, it's all I've thought about it. I've stayed up to ridiculous hours trying to research it, and between my art history books and my mom's (also an art history major), which is approximately a bajillion books, I haven't found one single thing said about it. Here's my thinking: OK, "Fountain" was rejected from an art show, and Duchamp wrote a letter in his defense, and in this letter he says he used the name "R. Mutt" as a parody of "R. Mott," a plumbing executive back then. He said that the name he used was fake to prove that in this post-WWI time, identity was arbitrary and irrelevant. Dada was also a way of thinking, not just a movement, and a somewhat nihilist one at that, so is it possible, even if only subconsciously, "R. Mutt" could be a reference to "armut?" I'm having difficulty finding anything, even on the internet from reputable sources, even at the library, so does anyone know anything about this? Also, if you have access to JSTOR, could someone please look up articles for me? I lost my account privileges when I graduated.

2. On a related note, I’ve been talking with a math/science/thoroughly not artsy friend of mine about art (he took a “math in art” class at UMCP last semester, thinking it would be about math more than art, and it wasn’t. In a big way.) One of the things we talked about a few weeks ago was “Fountain,” but since then, we’ve had some quick little theory discussions. Recently, he emailed me to tell me he saw a photo of a solitary member of the UMCP women’s basketball team making a shot against a slew of members from the other team. Looking at the shot, you can’t tell if she made the basket. So he asked me if I thought the artistic value of the photo was affected by whether or not she made the shot in reality. This was my response:

“well, knowing facts would certainly pepper your interpretation, as it would anything else, but trying to figure out how much those facts influenced the creation of the work is the tricky part. photography is a weird example because you could argue that the shot was accidental, in which case you try to figure out why that particular shot was the one on display. there's a general assumption that there aren't accidents in art, which i think is sometimes a little silly, but it's actually pretty on the point: with the exception of photography, most art is of a medium where the artist has the luxury of taking his/her time, calculating, planning, and really executing something the way they want to. so if someone like duchamp wrote "r mutt" on a urinal, its not an accident, so why write it at all? but i digress.

back to the basketball shot. in that example, i think knowing whether or not the shot was made is irrelevant, or even detrimental to the overall affect of the image, regardless of whether or not she made the shot or not. it sounds like part of allure of that photo is that pregnant moment of will-she-or-won't-she, or maybe the "strength" of one strong, solitary UMD player against an onslaught of "the enemy". but that's why trying to figure out the motives of whoever put up the image in the first place. if UMD wanted to show how great their women's basketball team was, they would probably show some successful team moments, or at least a shot of a team member actually making a shot. so why the ambiguity? it's on purpose, and therefore, knowing whether or not she made the shot doesn't matter.”

So what do you guys think?


Blogger adrian said...

i'd heard that r. mutt was a reference to the german word for mother (mutter) relating to the freudian overtones of a urinal (read: vagina). that makes the whole thing a little sexier too.

it'll be cool to see the reproduction for the upcoming dada show. . . .. . . ....

2:52 PM  
Blogger Samantha Wolov said...

oh freud. oy. i actually misread that the first time around, and the thought that went through my head was "yeah, because when i think of my mother, i think of urinating. SO plausable..." (kidding, kidding...)

that's actually really interesting--i hadn't heard of that either. but it raises an interesting question: if duchamp came out and actually said what his motivation was, or why he did something, do subsequent interpretations that deviate from that explanation have any merit?

3:08 PM  
Blogger n8shac said...

I don't personally trust DuChamp to tell me what he's thinking - I think that's part of his game, the majesty, and the allure of DuChamp and Dada. Happy accidents seem to be the thrust of his work; the mystery of the veracity of how the word "dada" was arrived at, the fountain, the Bride... if we're to understand these works as genius, then it is a purely whimsical type of genius that would be insatiably thrilled at all of these interpretations. Should the Fountain be interpreted as a comment on Poverty? I find that to be out of character for him and perhaps a bit too heavy and awkward, as well as the Freud. I do really like the interpretations you've arrived at, and I think it's amazing that no one has made an issue of it like this before... Very nice!

As far as the basketball shot... hmm. I always find it curious how little sports play a role in fine art... and telling, as if artists all collectively agreed to consider sports to be too plebian a subject. It's as if the experience of joy with a brush somehow directly contradicted any joy found in a ball or competition. I think sports is a difficult subject to cover, and this game serves as an example. At some point it's going to fall back to journalism and the Event, and the reason why most photographs of sporting events can't be considered fine art is because the real action is taking place on the field. No matter how remarkable the composition, anyone can take out an old newspaper and recite how the game went - and I think that fact alone makes most artists feel too insignificant? For all the drama that happens on the court, it's remarkable that it's a drama that no one can really attempt to capture. We used to have a gallery in town that featured pictures of rock celebrities on stage. I think she called it art, but I might find it to be pretty much the same as the basketball game.

But that wasn't your point at all... your point was if the artistic integrity of the photograph was affected by the eventual making or missing of the basketball shot. Hmmm. It's my opinion that Reality has no concrete connection with Art, and vice versa. So no, any actual artistic integrity already within the photograph should be wholeheartedly preserved!

4:38 PM  
Blogger Samantha Wolov said...

Wow, n8shac, that was a great response. Thanks! While I agree with you that much of Duchamp’s career was dependent on “happy accidents” (including works like “Three Standard Stoppages” which were entirely based on chance), and that he may not seem the most trustworthy, I do have faith that when he attempted to explain his work, he was truthful. Even if he was eccentric, and the explanation didn’t make any sense, I’ve never gotten the impression that he’d lie about it. But that’s not really grounded in anything. But why would he lie when he was trying to defend or explain himself? I mean, he was a crazy guy, but no matter what he did, there was always a point behind it.

It’s funny, I’m not a “sports person” (REALLY not a “sports person”), but I’ve also been kinda struck by how little sports are seen in art. It’s ironic, given that the models for the Greek sculptures that exemplify the ideal, symmetrical form were athletes. Then there are the boxing paintings from the Ashcan School, but there really hasn’t been that much. But I digress. I’m a little confused by the statement “reality has no concrete connection with art.” Can you explain a little more? I think it’s safe to say that reality isn’t ALWAYS connected to art, but never? How do you feel about works that are personal responses to factual events? Or photorealism? But you raise an interesting point, to which I’ll counter with a different, though related question: is photojournalism art? I’d really like to get your take on that.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

armut means pear in Turkish. The urinade has a pear shape. I found it interesting.

2:09 PM  

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