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The art world goes potty for Duchamp’s urinal

14 April 2017

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The art world has gone Duchamp mad this month. To mark the centenary of Fountain, New York’s Francis M. Naumann gallery is staging a show documenting the ways in which artists including Sturtevant, John Baldessari and Joseph Kosuth have responded to the porcelain readymade over the years. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has mounted an exhibition devoted to the scandal the famous urinal provoked, while in London, the Royal Academy has announced a show that will pair Duchamp’s work with that of his friend Salvador Dalí.

All of which is par for the course. More surprising is the news that fashion designer Virgil Abloh has decided to use Fountain’s centenary to create a hoodie in honour of the artist. Emblazoned with the instantly recognisable ‘R. Mutt’ signature, the item has been described as a ‘street piece that pays homage to an iconic sculpture’ and comes embellished with a brief history of the work on its back.

In yet stranger news, a rumour did the rounds last week that on 9 April, visitors could gain free entry to institutions including MoMA and Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof gallery simply by turning up at the ticket desk and introducing themselves as ‘R. Mutt’ – the cryptic signature with which Duchamp anointed his urinal.

This canard was sparked off by a mysterious email that came courtesy of one Thomas Girst, who turns out to be both a Duchamp devotee and head of cultural engagement at BMW. However, punters trying their luck at the museums in question  may have come away disappointed. While the Philadelphia Museum of Art was receptive to the scheme, Tate Modern, the Hamburger Bahnhof and MoMA denied any involvement with it.

Girst’s project also suggested that participating would temporarily redesignate a gents’ convenience into a unisex toilet in order to ‘provide space for everyone wanting to honor the centennial […] with impromptu readings, homages, proclamations, and performances.’ Perhaps, wonders the Rake, that’s what the Barbican Centre in London currently has in mind…

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