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Blogback: Francis Naumann on Duchamp’s Remakes of the “Fountain” Readymade

Art historian and gallerist Francis Naumann responds to Plumbing Duchamp’s Urinal: How Erudite Art Historians Piss on Simplicity:

As you can well imagine, I took considerable offense in your remarks, as you go on to identify me as the erudite art historian who has pissed on simplicity. To begin with, you call me a gallerist, which I am right now, but which I was not when this video was shot in the galleries of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 17 years ago. At that time, I was functioning exclusively as an art historian, lecturer and writer (following an 18-year teaching career at Parsons School of Design). It may not make a difference for the point you were trying to make, but I believe that identifying me in a commercial context cast me in a pejorative position before your readers had a chance to hear what I had to say.

Francis Naumann
Photo by Tom Keller

Now, as to what I said in that interview, I just listened to it again and I stand behind every word. Just because you fail to understand what I was trying to say (there is no doubt that you did), that should not allow you to characterize my remarks as “convoluted” and “cerebral.” Cerebral, perhaps, but not worthy of being categorized within, to use your words, “a stream of pretentious rhetoric.”

I believe that my analysis of the 1964 readymades and the reason why Duchamp made them is still sound and grounded in observable fact. In examining one of the replicated versions of Duchamp “Fountain,” I noticed fingerprints in the glaze, making it very clear to me that each example was painstaking produced by hand and not simply appropriated from preexisting, manufactured examples (as were the original readymades).

This was a revelation, for I realized that in having made the edition, Duchamp twisted the entire concept of the readymades upside-down, something few people understood at the time when they were issued. I developed these ideas into a full-length book on Duchamp’s replicated work: Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Harry N. Abrams, 1999). Since you were unable to understand the point I was trying to make in the video, perhaps you will better understand it after reading this book.

By contrast, you go on to characterize the remarks made by Walter Hopps as being a clearer and more succinct explanation of the readymade edition. You never questioned, however, if those remarks were accurate. Hopps said that Duchamp produced the edition so as to leave some money for his widow. What you don’t seem to know is that only one complete set of the readymades sold in Duchamp’s lifetime (and they are still in the collection of the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University Bloomington), and that he did not receive very much money for them when they were made. If he did it for money—as Hopps seems to suggest—then they were an abject failure. But if they were done for aesthetic reasons—as I have suggested—they are a resounding and phenomenal success, as they have gone on to represent Duchamp’s ideas in museums throughout the world.

I’m sorry that, in your words, “maybe Naumann thinks too much.” Thinking, after all, is the essential ingredient necessary for any understanding of Duchamp’s work.

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