Restating Artistic Value: Why Do People Pay 2,000,000 US.D. for a Urinal Signed by R. Mutt?

Ioannis Zavoleas

Ioannis Zavoleas

This thesis examines how Marcel Duchamp’s artwork Fountain has been reproduced and evaluated over time. The original piece was made in 1917 and was lost soon after it was created. Fountain has become renowned through its representations, descriptions, and copies and replicas of various scale; consequently, any later artistic critique was directed at the reproductions, rather than the original piece. Considering the fact that the original no longer exists, Fountain’s reproductions somewhat reflect the artistic aura of the original, especially when Duchamp was personally involved in their creation. Fountain’s reproductions may be viewed as originally (re-)produced artworks on their own. This thesis studies the processes of artistic evaluation applied to Fountain’s reproductions. Fountain is a special example for the following reasons: When it first appeared in 1917, it openly posed the question of whether objects mass-produced by manufacture can be given artistic value. Moreover, since Fountain’s artistic evaluation has been attributed to the reproductions, Fountain extends the question of attributing artistic value to reproduced objects, to artistic value attributed to reproduced art, in turn also raising questions about the relationship between original and copy. Finally, the artistic evaluation of Fountain has changed radically over time, further evincing the inherently ambiguous and subjective character of artistic evaluations, interpretations and debates. In order to respond to these subjects, this thesis compares the documentary information we have about Fountain, from photographs to descriptions and replicas, in order to analyze how artistic interpretations of the reproductions have gradually qualified Fountain’s artistic reputation. A close examination of these reproductions raises dilemmas in regards to Fountain’s artifactual status, as these may also be extended to reconsider its characterization as a ready-made. This thesis highlights the dilemmas underlying the interpretations and evaluations about Fountain and questions any presumption of direct analogy or similarity between the original and the reproductions. It explains these presumptions as the outcome of mechanisms of artistic evaluation and support. These mechanisms express the art system, operating each time in order to promote, or to suppress, any artwork. Over time, new artistic standards were being introduced transforming the art system in which Duchamp’s artwork would be artistically appraised.


Yannis Zavoleas

About Yannis Zavoleas

Yannis Zavoleas teaches Computational Design and Architecture as Senior Lecturer at University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. He holds a Ph.D. in Architectural Design from National Technical University of Athens (NTUA - 2011, best study of the year), an MSc in Comparative Media Studies from MIT (2004), an MArch from UCLA (2000) and a 5-year professional degree in architectural engineering from NTUA (1996). In 2013 Yannis published the books "Machine and Network as Structural Models in Architecture" and "Surface: Digital Materiality and the New Relation between Depth and Surface", both by Futura, Athens. His research interests include architectural design methodology, theory and practice, especially seen through the digital turn. He has published papers and produced experimental works on computation and the future of architecture and the related design practices, under an interdisciplinary scope. His recent research project named as Bio-Shelters received the prestigious New South Wales Urban Growth funding to build artificial prototype reef structures as shelters for marine organisms acting as natural filters to clean the sea water. Currently, such kinds of sea life are heavily threatened by increasing pollution levels. It is suggested that the proposed structures will assist population regrowth and will improve the water quality in coastal urban areas such as Sydney Harbour. Thesis: Restating Artistic Value: Why Do People Pay 2,000,000 US.D. for a Urinal Signed by R. Mutt?


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