cover photo

blog archive

main site




View current page
...more recent posts

One of the many ironies of the Schwarz urinals is that they are carefully crafted earthenware sculptures modelled on the Stieglitz photo of the “original”. 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.”

via afc news sidebar 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.

Collectors of contemporary art are comfortable acquiring individual works in series, but they don't relish unlimited editions or dodgy authorship. Some may be dismayed to learn that there are at least three more “Duchamp urinals”. Gio di Maggio, a collector whose Fondazione Mudima is in Milan, and Luisella Zignone, a Duchamp collector based in Biella, both have “Fountains” that Mr Schwarz says he gave as gifts. Sergio Casoli, a Milan dealer, is also thought to own one. (He declined to comment.)

Mr Schwarz claims that these works were made in 1964 under Duchamp's direction, but were not included in the original edition due to “imperfections”. (It is unlikely that more than 17 urinals could have survived from this edition, but only Mr Schwarz knows for sure.) None of the newly discovered pieces have the “Marcel Duchamp” signature of official ready-mades. Nevertheless, the “Fountains” owned by Mr Di Maggio and Mrs Zignone have been shown in public institutions in Basel and Buenos Aires. In interview, Mr Schwarz reluctantly confirmed that he is trying to sell a fourth “Fountain” for an undisclosed sum, which one source says is $2.5m. (When pressed, Mr Schwarz says the asking price depends on whether the purchaser is a museum, a well-reputed collector or a speculator.)

The artist’s estate is not pleased. Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, the head of the Association for the Protection and Conservation of works by Marcel Duchamp, says that “neither my mother nor I ever sanctioned the sale of unauthorised ready-mades.” Mrs Monnier’s mother, “Teeny”, was married to Pierre Matisse, the dealer son of the Henri, before she married Duchamp, making her an heir to both the Henri Matisse and Duchamp estates. She sees Mr Schwarz's activities as curious given that “Arturo was a great friend of Marcel.”

Some Duchamp connoisseurs are outraged. Francis M. Naumann, a scholar and dealer who has published widely on Duchamp, argues that these urinals cannot be considered Duchamps at all. “For Duchamp, the signature was everything,” he argues. “It is the single most important element in the process of transforming an ordinary everyday object into a work of art.”

[link] [add a comment]