Street art festival Art in Odd Places brought a string of contemporary art installations and performance art to Magnolia Avenue last weekend. We documented the event with a photo gallery, HERE. Most installations were well received by pedestrians and festival goers alike. However, the piece pictured above, an allusion to Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, was not as popular as the others.
According to a post on their personal social media accounts, the artists behind the sculpture, the Housewifes Collective, were asked to remove the installation because they were told it “looked like trash” despite the piece having been accepted by the curatorial staff and paid for by the festival months in advance.
According to their festival bio – Housewifes Collective is an ongoing collaboration between Angelica Millan, Cathleen Bota, Jessica Earley, Leah Sandler and Lucinda Rex. Born out of a group exhibition of the same name, Housewifes Collective shares a common artistic aim of exploring the nuances of each of our individual female experiences within and outside of the domestic sphere.
The original Fountain consisted of a standard urinal, standing upright, signed and dated “R. Mutt, 1917.” Duchamp was designating an ordinary, mass-produced object as art. It was famously excluded from a major jury-free contemporary art show in Paris when the board behind the gallery decided to censor the entry and label it as unfit for public viewing. The piece gained notoriety because of its expulsion, which snowballed into a certain amount of fame at the time. Fountain is now widely regarded as an icon of twentieth-century art.
We had the opportunity to sit with most of the parties involved in the situation at this most recent art event and came up with a semi-convoluted picture of what occurred.
AiOP manager, Barbara Hartley of the Downtown Arts District, informed us that the sculpture was removed due to a chain of mistakes by festival staff, not simply because it was a toilet. According to Hartley, the festival curators had been approved to locate the piece at the library, and not in Heritage Square, where it was installed, and that the History Center (a major contributor to the festival) had not given its approval for it to be placed in front of their venue. Hartley informed us that the issue was miscommunicated to the Collective by festival staff and that the sculpture was removed simply because of lack of approval.
Festival curator, Genevieve Bernard (who was in Europe during the festival), made it clear in correspondence with festival staff (shared with us earlier in the week) that Hartley and the museum had all been aware of the location of the installation. The piece had originally been pitched as a port-o-potty but was later downgraded to just a non-functioning toilet, because of it’s intended location at the center of the Square. Bernard also stated that the Duchamp reference was part of an ongoing discourse surrounding the installation and that it was often the subject of harmless jokes and friendly ribbing.
Festival producer Timothy Turner informed us that Sandler et al were offered two alternatives: another location for the sculpture next to the library or replace it with a history lesson. The artists chose the latter and replaced the sculpture with a sign that had a small write-up comparing their piece to the original, which we’ve attached below.
One of the artists, Leah Sandler, told us that her original application for the festival had placed the piece in the Heritage Square fountain, as another allusion to the original Duchamp piece. That it was integral to the overall installation that it be placed in the center of the Square to give the piece more context.
Editor’s Note: We assume Duchamp would approve of the entire debacle. The point of this post is not to point fingers or lay blame at anyone’s feet but rather to meditate on how history repeats itself, even in regards to toilet-based artworks.
Thanks Duchamp 😉