A second version of Duchamp’s Fountain was shown in 1950 then 1953 at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, first in the Challenge and Defy exhibition, then in the Dada 1916-1926 exhibition. The work was hung differently in each exhibition; both presentations pointedly departing from the submission of the original Fountain to the Independents exhibition in 1917 and the photographic and written attention the work received in the wake of its rejection. In 1999 Michael Newman considered the significance of these new presentations:

“In the first the urinal is hung the right way up and low on the wall, ‘so little boys could use it’, and in the second it is suspended over a doorway with mistletoe hung from it.

“We can detect here a diametric inversion of the strategy of the 1917 submission of the urinal to the Independents. At that time, the intention was clearly to test the conditions for the appearance of works of art. The outcome is to demonstrate that these conditions involved not only perceptual but also institutional factors, indeed that the institutional framework was constitutive of the meanings of the object. […] That is to say, the submission to the Independents was intended to make what is not art (what does not in its form express the genius of the individual artist, but is a mass-produced, replicated object) appear as art, thus highlighting the role of the institution (including the signature) in any such appearance, a role that could not be covered by a description of manifest, perceivable qualities of the object.

The Janis installations move in the opposite direction, because they attempt to make the institutionally validated object (now Duchamp’s Fountain-signed-R. Mutt rather than R. Mutt’s Fountain) disappear into its surroundings, either by turning the gallery into a urinal or by hanging the urinal where it might be visually missed, and act as a kind of sexual trap. Instead of the everyday object being removed from its function, either the gallery, sanctum of autonomy, is to be made to conform with the functional connotation of the object or the function of the object is displaced to another, in this case ritualistic, role.

“The attempt to make the artwork disappear proves a failure, a failure that is clearly part of the ‘performative’ involved in these installations. […] What this gesture marks, as a reflection on the 1917 submission, is the impossibility of the work of art disappearing as work of art. If one aspect of the whole strategy of the ready-made was to make the work of art (as unique expression of the artist-genius manifested in visual properties) disappear as such, it has since become clear that such disappearance was not achieved. There are at least two reasons for this. The first is that the institution of art cannot be voluntaristically abolished by the individual artist, since it is economically and politically determined. The second is a more formal, and perhaps more interesting, reason that will come to condition Conceptual art: it is that the very attempt to make the object disappear itself becomes a condition for its appearance. The object appears in and as its disappearing, and therefore cannot disappear.”

Newman, M. 1999. ‘After Conceptual Art: Joe Scanlan’s Nesting Bookcases, Duchamp, Design, and the Impossibility of Disappearing’. In Newman, Michael and Bird, Jon (eds.). 1999. Rewriting Conceptual Art. London: Reaktion Books. pp.206-211.

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