The Artwork As Postmaterial Narrative
A research, art piece and installation proposal, 1917 – 2017
In April 1917, a common urinal was submitted by a certain R.Mutt to the Society Of Independant Artists, to be inlcuded in the upcoming art show at The Grand Central Palace, in New York. The work was titled „Fountain“ and delivered by a femals friend of the artist.
The piece was rejected by the committee, in a blatant violation of the rules whicht stated that every entry who would pay the fee had to be accepted.
Marcel Duchamp, who was a member of the committee, left the society under protest. The Urinal vanished shortly, only to show up a few days later at Gallery 291 of the famous photographer and Duchamp friend Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz took a photo of the urinal. After that, the urinal was lost again and hasnt surfaced ever since. Stieglitz’ print – the negative ist lost, too is the only „proof of existence“ of the single most seminal art piece of the 20th century.
Johannes Gees’ piece „Stieglitz Juxtaposition“ starts with a simple question: What did Alfred Stieglitz see on that day in April 1917, in his studio, when he took the picture of fountain?
Stieglitz positioned the urinal on a wooden pedestal, in front of what looks like a wallpaper. Lighting looks highly improvised, coming from above and casting a strong shadow on the inner part of the urinal.
When trying to learn more about that situation, the „wallpaper“, which is the only element offering context, caught Johannes Gees’ interest.
Under the (false) assumption that the photo had been taken in the days before to the show, when the jury would look at the artworks, he went through the list of the fellow artists to see if there would be any hint. He discovered that it was indeed Marsden Heartley’s painting „Warriors“ that Stieglitz used as a background to Duchamp’s Fountain.
Looking at „Warriors“, it becomes instantly obvious why Stieglitz chose that painting: it stunningly hightlights the shape of the urinal (the name „Fountain“ had only been attributed to the photography, but not to the original readymade) and it has set the scene for the interpretation as a „Buddha Of The Bathroom“, the title of Louise Norton’s praise of „Fountain“ in the „Blind Man“, where Stieglitz photography was printed for the first time.
Within a couple of weeks, „Fountain“ had metamorphosed from a piece of plumbing into a readymade with a misleading signature, which might have been chosen by Marcel Duchmamp or his friend the Dada Baroness, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven; from a ready made free of context into a photographical representation of the object and a visual enhancement chosen by the photographer.
Thanks to Stieglitz (and to Louise Norton, who must have seen „Fountain“ and Stieglitz’ Studio), it became an artwork with a collective authorship. Fountain is not unique because of its nature as a readymade – Duchamp and the Baroness had chosen others before „Fountain“, but because of its true dadaist shared authorship. Its mysterious origin, the refusal by the „Society of Independent Artists“, Stieglitz’ appropriation, Louise Norton’s interpretation and that fact that the original object vanished shortly thereafter gave birth to a new work concept: the art piece as a postmaterial narrative.