A perfect question to be asked on #internationalwomensday
Evidence proves the famous urinal Fountain, proposed as the start of conceptual art, attributed to Marcel Duchamp, was actually created by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Why aren’t art history books and museums rushing to correct their narrative?
About the Fountain. As the story goes, a urinal turned upside down, signed by R Mutt was sent to the American Society of Independent Artists in 1917. The goal of the society was to hold annual exhibitions by avant-garde artists. Exhibitions were to be open to anyone who wanted to display their work, you just had to pay the six-dollar membership and entry fee. Nevertheless, this piece was rejected. Marcel Duchamp, a member of the board, resigned. The famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz photographed it. The thing vanished, it was allegedly destroyed, conceptual art was born.
With this act, the artist of the piece removed the link between the skills and labour of the artist and the supposed ‘merit’ of the work. In other words, it was not about beauty or skills, it was about the concept. The artist posed the questions: Who is an artist? And what is art?
At the time, Duchamp was not known as its creator (though most suspected him to be). Instead, as Alfred Stieglitz wrote, “A young woman sent a large porcelain urinal on a pedestal to the Independent(s).” Duchamp only years and year later, in the 1950s, said that he had not made his own identity known because of his position on the society’s board.
Duchamp himself wrote in a letter to his sister, (translation directly from Irene Gammel’s biography of Von Freytag-Loringhoven), Baroness Elsa: “One of my female friends who had adopted the masculine pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.” dot dot dot
Glyn Thompson, pointed out to Siri Hustvedt, who are both dedicated to proof the Baroness as the brain behind the urinal, said that Duchamp wrote “avait envoyé” not “m’a envoyé” – “sent in”, not “sent me”. Moreover, R Mutt was identified as an artist living in Philadelphia, which is where von Freytag-Loringhoven was living at the time.
The Baroness was a German avant-garde, Dadaist artist and poet who worked for several years in Greenwich Village, New York. She made other sculptures where she turned plumbing into art.
Taken all of this together, it’s is hard to counter that Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven made the ‘seminal’ (yuck) piece that founded conceptual art . Replicas of the fountains on view in museums like the @tate, why not change the wall tags? Art history books are revised every couple of years, why don’t they update the story? International acclaimed art museums are agents for culture. Rightly attributing women’s achievements to women is a big deal. Especially if it’s a work of art that changed the course of art history. It puzzles me why people in charge are not running to their computers to set up meetings to decide on how to correct this error.