During the height of the Dada movement in Germany and France, Marcel Duchamp joined the satirical farce and turned his artistic focus to social critique and artistic rebellion from previous styles. His notions of demolishing the customary regulations within the art world led him to extremes, and in 1917, to prove his point, he submitted a urinal into the art salon exhibition that year under the title "Fountain."
This was an ordinary urinal which he signed "R. Mutt," an absurd name which the artist found funny. Technically, this was supposed to be submitted as a sculpture, but Duchamp did not make this. He purchased the urinal from a plumbing company and, at his house, signed it and dated it. Upon submitting this ridiculous item to the salon, the artist was naturally met with skepticism that such an object could be at all considered as art. Duchamp's defense was that he had signed it, and that therefore it was to be considered art.
Okay, for those of us with senses of humor, let's be honest; this is pretty ridiculous. It's a urinal, and that's clearly a joke—and it's funny. Marcel Duchamp's Dadaist theories of art can here be seen as simply that: a joke. This is a mockery of the high-brow institution that bastioned itself in high-minded academia and intellectualism; art was growing into a lavish and refined cultural echelon of its own. But not even the more humbly realistic Ashcan School artists could suffice to adequately disassemble this institutionalized mechanization of art (as it had so become, at least, in Duchamp's opinion). A radical example was needed to shake the foundations of the art world and awaken people to an honest criticism of themselves. If you can't laugh at art, you can at least laugh at a urinal.
But people take this work very seriously now as a definitive work of art conveying the ideas of boundless expression and creative freedom within the medium. The Fountain's original intent appears to have been satire and social criticism, but perhaps today we can have the debate in a more sober-minded attitude than shocked critics would have had back then. Today, this urinal is considered an actual work of art. (Lol)—You can go see reproductions of it to this day in one of several different art museums. I'm not kidding. So, the question we ask ourselves at this point is: Why? Why is a urinal considered art? Should it be considered art? Do you consider it art?
Duchamp's idea of signature license reigns supreme in most contemporary discussions of his Dadaist artwork. I've heard the argument countless times: He signed it; he dated it; he submitted it—therefore, it's a work of art. I'll open this one up to you guys, my readers. Do you think that an artist's signature on a work automatically classifies that object as a work of art? It's a valid question, and it's one which we perhaps can debate more fully after we've finished covering the material. For now, I'll move on.