Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is a standard porcelain urinal yet also a icon of 20th century art. As a member of Society of Independent Artists, when Duchamp submitted Fountain to their inaugural exhibition in 1917 signed under the pseudonym “R. Mutt”, the board of directors who were bound by the constitution’s rule to accept all members’ submissions decided to exclude Fountain from the show.
The reason of rejection was not only that the work defies conventional aesthetics but also that it was created by an anonymous artist. If the board members have known that the work was delivered by Duchamp, a notable artist who also held a position on Society’s board, the response probably would have been the reverse.
Orson Welles’ F for Fake scrutinizes the essence of authenticity and concepts of expertise through the art world. In the art market, signature is what makes a work authentic. Elmyr de Hory embraces his expertise in replicating old masters paintings by successfully making the art market believe his work as originals yet he considers himself not a forger as he never signed any of his replicas. Elmyr’s story reminded me of an event that occured in 2014 when the internationally celebrated artist Banksy decided to set up a pop-up stand of his paintings among other selling cheap tourist souvenirs by Central Park.
Although with signatures on the back of the canvases, only two paintings have been sold throughout the whole day. Banksy then published a message on his website to authenticated his stand the next day which caused a storm in the art world with galleries acquiring the paintings with absurdly high price from the fortunate buyer. I am positive that Banksy’s paintings would have been sold out immediately if he have announced his plan prior to setting up his stand. Banksy, Elmyr and Duchamp’s trickery worked because of their prominence in the art world and that people often appreciate “name” over the actual work. It is bizarre to contemplate how much a simple gesture of leaving your personal imprint can make such a huge difference in how others perceive your work.
Similar to authenticity yet differently, “rarity” is another topic that was brought up in F for Fake. With or without an original concept or vision, I believe that a replica is just as authentic as the original. What gives originality value is dependent on who you seek validation from. Welles’ commentary on Elmyr’s paintings “It’s pretty. But is it rare?” resonates with me a lot. It is plausible to make the assumption that Elmyr’s forgery was mainly for pleasure purposes yet I also speculate his desire to gain validation on his skill as a possible drive. As an artist living in the contemporary art era where aesthetics and technical mastery have been redefined, it is difficult to determine if your work is successful or not. Many would probably agree that the value of your work is dependent on the experts — dealers, gallerists, collectors and critics whose opinions matters.