Authenticating Duchamp

Read Sarah Thornton’s excellent Economist story that tries to detail the history of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain in the years since the artist re-created it. It would be unfair to quote the story at length here. So let’s summarize. The original Fountain from 1917 was lost. After the second World War, Duchamp’s reputation created demand for the work. First, curators were authorized to buy examples. Later, a group was recreated. But even then the object was not coveted. Let’s let Thornton take it from here:

Every edition has a story, but there is no beating the provenance of the 13th one. Dubbed “the prototype” and bearing Duchamp’s signature, it slipped quietly onto the market in 1973 at the then fledgling gallery of Ronald Feldman in New York. Andy Warhol, who visited the gallery repeatedly, pressed Mr Feldman to trade the urinal for some of his own portraits. “Duchamp didn’t sell well in those days,” says Mr Feldman, “but Andy knew what multiples meant because he made them.”When Warhol died in 1987, his urinal was consigned to Sotheby’s as part of his giant five-volume estate sale. “Fountain” was buried in a volume devoted to prints and given a lowly estimate of $2,000-2,500. It sold for $65,750 to Dakis Joannou, a Greek-Cypriot construction tycoon, and is now enshrined in the front hall of his main home in Athens. “I couldn’t believe that we could actually own it,” says Mr Joannou. “People didn’t appreciate its historical importance, so we got a bargain.” In the following decade, Duchamp’s renown increased yet again, as did the marketing of his work. In 1999 Sotheby’s put an official Schwarz urinal on the cover of its Contemporary Art evening sale catalogue; it commanded $1.8m.

There’s more because a few errant urinals are still on the market. But you’ll have to read the story to find out more about that.

Rogue Urinals (Economist)