Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’ 1917, replica 1964
Marcel Duchamp
Fountain 1917, replica 1964
© Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

Duchamp set himself the challenge of making art works that were not works of art, as traditionally understood.

He decided that an art work did not need to be either visually appealing or even made by the artist. Accordingly, he chose a number of ‘readymade’ objects, of no aesthetic merit, and gave them the usual attributes of a work of art: a title, a named author, a date of execution, and a viewing public or owner. His Fountain – an ordinary urinal laid on its back – was rejected from an exhibition in 1917. This, and more importantly, the ensuing debate about what constitutes a work of art, is now seen as a turning point in the history of modernism.

Rather than readymades, Man Ray produced what he called ‘objects of my affection’: two or more elements combined to create a new work. He also used his camera to record transient or ephemeral items that caught his eye. Here it was the photograph that was the work of art, rather than the object itself.