Marcel Duchamp Fountain Sword Fight

marcel duchamp's fountain, photographe by alfred stieglitz, and published in the blind man, 1917
Stieglitz photo of Fountain, 1917, published in The Blind Man 2, May 1917. I think that’s the submission label hanging on the left.

You know the saying, don’t refute my scholarship and tell me it’s raining.

Much has happened in the academic pissing match over the idea, floating around for almost 20 years now, that Fountain was not the creation of Marcel Duchamp, but of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. The theory was first [AFAIK] put forward in Irene Gammell’s groundbreaking 2002 biography of the Baroness, based on circumstantial evidence: she and Duchamp knew each other; a 1917 newspaper report of the Society rejection said R. Mutt, the urinal’s purported author, was from Philadelphia, where Elsa was living at the time; a then-recently uncovered letter* of Marcel to his sister Suzanne Duchamp said Fountain was the work of a female friend; and an inverted urinal that looked like a Buddha does seem to resonate with an inverted drainpipe titled God, a sculpture which had been belatedly reattributed to Freytag-Loringhoven, and which Duchamp helped into the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Then five years ago a couple of trolls came at Duchamp, calling him a thief in The Art Newspaper, as part of an attempt to take down the century of contemporary art that flowed from Fountain. How Dawn Ades and Alastair Brotchie got involved is not quite clear to me, but they have unleashed a stream of criticism against the Baroness Elsa theory, and it is a glorious sight to behold. It all seems to be triggered by an article by Bradley Bailey in The Burlington Magazine, and it’s playing out via letters to the editor of The Art Newspaper.

It’s worth reading every pissed off, pissed on word, but it seems to boil down to the emergence of previously unpublished–or at least unconsidered–evidence supporting Duchamp’s hand: an alternate Stieglitz photo of Fountain shows its submission label, with Duchamp’s female friend Louise Norton’s address. [I think this is just the same Stieglitz photo from The Blind Man, only less cropped, and developed or printed more brightly than it appears in the grainy offset. For whatever reason, even the image below, from the Wikipedia entry for Fountain shows a legible tag.]

Alfred Stieglitz photo of Fountain, Apr 19, 1917, with SIA submission tag visible–and also looking like it has been torn off and reattached, but that’s not the issue now. image via wikipedia

And Norton discussed Duchamp and the Society show and the Fountain incident in an unpublished interview. Other pieces of supposed evidence put forth by the trolls are likewise refuted by historical facts that should be easily known–if your goal is actually knowing things, not just tearing them down.

Letters to the editor | Did Duchamp really steal Elsa’s (sic) urinal? [The Art Newspaper]
Marcel Duchamp Was Not A Thief []
previously, related: In the Beginning

* Tempus really fugit. Francis Naumann himself just emailed to point out that he discovered the letter to Suzanne all the way back in 1980, and published it, along with other correspondence, in 1983. [Naumann, “Affectueusement, Marcel: Ten Letters from Marcel Duchamp to Suzanne Duchamp and Jean Crotti,” Archives of American Art Journal 22, no. 4 (Spring 1983): 2‑19.)] He also added that he refuted the trolls’ distortion of the letter’s contents back in 2015, and I am confident he would agree with me that this is getting tired.