Annual Theme Show: This Is Not Art
Marcel Duchamp anonymously submitted “Fountain” to the Society of Independent Artists for exhibition in 1917. The exhibition was non-juried and all works submitted by members were to be displayed. However, the organization refused to exhibit “Fountain”, arguing that it was not art. Duchamp contested that the work was art, because an artist had made it. With this work, Duchamp challenged the idea of what art can be. Our juried theme show this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Duchamp’s ground breaking work. “This Is Not Art” is a theme, but also a challenge to create work that pushes boundaries. The show will run from January 13 through February 25.
This is the 100th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s provocative submission of Fountain—a urinal—to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York. The now-iconic event caused a tremendous uproar in 1917, initiating a series of discussions about what constitutes art. Although many took issue with Duchamp’s views, the recent French émigré had invented a new and influential category of art, the “readymade.” According to Duchamp, a “readymade” was an ordinary manufactured object that became art because the artist declared it so. In the case of Fountain, the artist displayed the urinal upside-down and signed it with the fictitious name “R. Mutt.”
To commemorate Duchamp and the spirit of questioning he embraced, Mystic Museum of Art’s 2017 juried exhibition’s theme is This is Not Art. But how does one create art that is not art? And what should an exhibition of non-art look like? Do we recreate pieces with a Duchamp-like aesthetic or try to imagine how Duchamp would push boundaries in the art world of today? These were the challenges facing artists and the judging of this year’s exhibition.
Many of the artists thought long and hard about the assignment and there were many assemblages, readymades, and other pieces that channel the cheeky energy of the Dada art movement. But an art show is still an art show, and what pushed boundaries in 1917 is now firmly familiar. I tried to keep Duchamp’s spirit and methods in mind when making selections. This meant favoring Duchamp-like art and also widening the scope to appreciate the use of new technologies and to question the inherent biases that exist against craft and kitsch. Duchamp wrote that he was “interested in ideas—not merely in visual products,” and the prize-winning pieces were those that seemed to contain complex ideas as well as aesthetic merit.
My choice for first place, I’m So Glad You Called!, embodies the notion of the readymade, offering an original, clever, and beautiful sculptural work. Two old-fashioned telephone receivers unite in an embrace, one upright with the other hooked mid-way in a surprisingly intimate, figural gesture. The second place prize goes to It’s All About You, a fascinating mixed-media piece that plays with vision, reflection, and reproduction, suggesting the hubris and commodification of pregnancy and procreation. In third place is This Ain’t Art—It’s Soap!, a collection of many small bars of soap reduced to translucent discs and slivers. Displayed as a group in a lovely glass dish, the jewellike soap resembles sea glass, but close looking reveals its status as a used-up everyday household good.
Many thanks to the contributing artists for their work and to the staff of the Mystic Museum of Art for giving me the opportunity to participate in this exciting exhibition. I am tremendously grateful!
Tanya Pohrt, Ph.D
Project Curator of American Art
Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut
Kam Ghaffari, I’m So Glad You Called! Assisted readymade
Linda Talerico, It’s All About You! Mixed media
Kris Jacobi, This Ain’t Art — It’s Soap! Plastic, soap, glass
Edith Cowles Watercolor Award
Suzanne Starr, Ode to a Commode. Watercolor
Kay R. Brigante, The Golden Handshake. Assemblage
Kam Ghaffari, You Only Live Thrice (STT). Twice rectified readymade
(RR2): anonymous first rectifier
R. Douglass Rice, Mexico City Blues Choruses I-75. Oil and oil stick
William Vollers, Light House. Metal & wood