Anyone familiar with the Insolite knows that this magazine holds the work of Marcel Duchamp in high regard. So, naturally, we took great interest in the fact that 2017 marks the centennial of Duchamp’s Fountain.
Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), boasting the largest Duchamp collection in the world (including a replica of Fountain, of course), decided to “celebrate,” the anniversary of this readymade by the coolest event you never heard about. Quotes, being used, of course, because one would assume that such a “celebration” would come with any sort of press release, or advertisement. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as PMA had apparently spent their entire marketing budget on banners advertising Wild. And, thus, the assumption that you were never fortunate enough to hear about it.
The event consisted a 9-hole readymade minigolf course. Each hole was selected from submissions by local artists, and incorporated art that is housed at the museum. For this, artist Richard Gabriele was chosen to present his handmade and golfable replica of none other than Duchamp’s fountain. Fortunately, Richard Gabriele is a friend of the Insolite, and we were made aware of the event in advance. (You can find his work here.) And, past the lack of support for the artists by way of advertisement, the mini golf course did not disappoint.
on readymades and their reversals (and re-reversals, perhaps)
A readymade is simply when an artist takes an ordinary object (perhaps, but not necessarily, modifying it) and declares it art. Duchamp stated that, for this, he sought objects with a completely neutral aesthetic—staying in line with his philosophical antipathy for “beautiful” art with no depth.
This might lead one to question the use of “readymade” in “readymade minigolf course.” And, in fact, it is true that, in the strictest sense, using art for ordinary activities (minigolf, say) doesn’t qualify as a readymade. Duchamp actually referred to this as the “reverse readymade”—using the example of taking a Rembrandt and using it as an ironing board.
Gabriele in the studio re-reversing the readymade | photo Courtesy of Richard Gabriele.
Unfortunately, this idea was not truly realized at PMA, and the original art works were not used for each hole. So, instead, it was necessary for Gabriele to re-reverse the readymade, by constructing a fountain out of plaster. The quixotic effort to sculpt the urinal by hand recalls the Roman tradition of copying Greek masterpieces and mirrors Duchamp’s interest in making full-scale and miniature copies of his own work. Duchamp signed the original “R. Mutt” (a pun on the German word Armut, or poverty). Gabriele chose to honor the pseudonym by signing his plaster sculpture “R. Mutt 2017” because, as the artist told the Insolite, “the world isn’t any less crazy today and R. Mutt still carries a relevant message for those who understand the context.”
The art-inspired miniature golf game reflects the absurd spirit of Dada and invited visitors to play with experiential elements of chance and accident that Dadaism notoriously embraced. In the 20th Century, the Fountain controversy forced people to reconsider the timeless question “What is a work of art?” And, a hundred years later, Gabriele’s handmade (and golfable) response (re-)reverses and repurposes the “readymade” with a touch of humor.
on beauty without depth (outro)
By the measure of advertising, it would seem that PMA was emphasizing works of beauty with little depth. This might lead one to question if the museum really understand the point of the fountain to begin with—purportedly celebrating that which condemns their own advertising efforts.
But, this magazine must commend the museum on the event, none-the-less. The minigolf course, itself, wonderfully celebrated the ideas underlying dadaism, while creating something that had the potential to get more people engaged in the arts.
UPDATE: We were able to obtain footage of Gabriele creating his Fountain (Handmad & Golfable). We have since edited it in a manner befitting its creation (or so we hope).