On the backside of our Manifesto13 shirts is a urinal. Though it can, at first glance, look like a slab of meat inside a triangle, it is, in fact, the single most important urinal in the history of art.
This urinal is the reason why my near-lifelike painting of a baby cooing to its crying mother isn’t art. It doesn’t matter that my sense of proportion is impeccable, or my gradation of tones is simply the smoothest any artist has ever gotten it; I could’ve gone weirder and painted the same baby helping a horse give birth to a rose in its palm and it still wouldn’t make it anything of worth. The urinal has canceled out the past half-millennium of art.
And here’s how it happened:
In 1917, the New York-based Society of Independent Artists held an exhibition—one that was the first of its kind in the United States. There were no judges, and no prizes. Anyone, anyone at all, could send in their work so long as they paid the $6 entry fee ($129.95 in 2019, Google tells me).
Among the many submissions, the Society received a urinal signed R. MUTT 1917, submitted anonymously. When it came for this submission to be reviewed, the members of the board paused, and then,
Heh—absolutely not!, they said. No! No! No!
There was only one voice of dissent—a Frenchman, who said he would resign in protest if they didn’t accept it.
Monsieur and Monsieur and Monsieur and Monsieur! (I don’t know the French plural.) Non! Non! Non! Non!, he yelled back, and left.
Turns out the Frenchman, who was strangely sensitive about whether something that belonged in a restroom would be accepted in an exhibition, was the artist.
For some reason, the Society ended up displaying the urinal anyway and, at its unveiling, the art world was immediately shaken to its core. What made art Art was thrown into question. It’s not about my expert renderings of babies and mothers and a horse anymore; save those nice paintings you did of your kindly uncle gardening for the chocolate box.
The influence of this urinal is still felt almost a century later. A New York Times article from May 30, 2016 reads:
Two California teenagers who recently visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art were less than impressed by some of the exhibits and wondered if they could do better.
And thus a scheme was hatched: They placed a pair of eyeglasses on the floor, stood back and watched as, within minutes, visitors regarded their prank as a work of art, with some even taking photos of the fake installation.
These kids put Burberry glasses on the floor, and, in a few seconds, it was made into art. As in, people approached it as they would Art. Because a hundred years ago someone submitted a urinal.
Which also means it took us a hundred years of research to find out Duchamp didn’t even “make” the thing—it was, as with most things in this world, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven! Well, it’d be wrong to say she made it—she bought it, and, for some odd reason, had it sent to Duchamp, who found nothing “indecent” about it and submitted it to the show. It was a two-step Dada pay-it-forward.
But the kindness stops there. When asked, Duchamp had the nerve to tell people he got it from the J.L. Mott Iron Works plumbing store on 5th Avenue in New York. But if you happen to get your hands on a New York urinal catalog from the 1910s, that model is nowhere to be found. This urinal has never been peed into by any of J.L. Mott Iron Works’ patrons.
The Baroness, hopefully, will one day get her due.
Still, art was en route to the water-closet anyway: a famous German architect, whose first name was Hermann, a little over a decade before the Loringhoven/Duchamp urinal submission, said Modern Art will die, and Modern Fashion will die, and also dying will be Modern architecture. Modern design in general—Modern Everything, with a capital M, will die and good. What will remain is one thing we truly need: the toilet.
If you’d like to learn more fun facts about art history (and make your own pieces the way the Greats did), check out our Art Foundation and Art Masters courses.
In ART FOUNDATION, your child will learn the very basics of painting, and will be given a solid foundation in the history of art. All techniques will be covered: watercolor, acrylic, collage—to name a few! Once you’ve completed ART FOUNDATION, you can level up to ART MASTERS! In this class, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the lives of artists and the world they lived in and study their many styles before trying them out ourselves! Sign up today!