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What Are You Looking At?

150 Years of Modern Art In The Blink of an Eye

Will Gompertz

Marcel Duchamp 1917 buys common porcelain urinal, signs it in black paint 'R.Mutt 1917'. He has invented a new form of art, which he calls 'readymade' - taking mass-produced object away from its useful context and by naming it making a de facto piece of art. He tried to exhibit it in the 1917 Independents Exhibition, but they rejected it (bc he was taking the piss, of course). It was never seen again - one suggestion being that a member of the committee smashed it, thus solving the problem of whether to exhibit it or not.

But smashing it solved nothing. All Duchamp had to do was buy another one and sign it. And that's what he did. There are 15 Duchamp-endorsed Fountains in collections around the world.

Rauschenberg said he wanted to work "in the gap between art and life" in order to find the point where they met or merged. This is often regarded as the essence of Pop Art.

Andy Warhol literally didn't care whether he'd had a hand in the making of a 'Warhol' - all that mattered was that he authenticated it on his way out of 'The Factory'.

Conceptual art intention is to entertain and provoke thought, and do so without creating a physical object. It is 'good' art only when the idea is good.

Marina Abramovic conceptual art show at MOMA NY where she sat on a chair at a small table in the middle of the huge atrium, with an empty chair facing her. She sat in the chair without moving or taking a break, for the full seven and a half hours the show was open, and for the entire eleven week run. Visitors could, if they wished, sit in the chair opposite her. They could stay for as long or as short a time as they liked, but they had to be quiet and still. People queued around the block for a chance to sit. Some stayed only a minute or two, one or two stayed for the full seven and a half hours, to the mounting fury of those waiting in the queue.

Legendary concert Woodstock, NY 1952. Audience waiting to hear latest composition from John Cage. Pianist walks on stage, sits at piano for 4'33'', then springs up and walks off the stage. A later performance was enhanced by Merce Cunningham, a famous radical choreographer. He sat perfectly still in a comfy red armchair.

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