Very much enjoyed this BBC Radio feature, recommended to me by Dan Hanrahan.
1. The fame of the the Fountain, it's importance, resides in the aura of meaning attached to it; and that meaning, without a doubt, was attached to it by Marcel Duchamp.
2. This sort of achievement in the art world is nonetheless deeply tied to issues of originality and precedence: once and only once in history (well, in the history of Western Culture) can a urinal be labelled as art and the artist given credit for it. Succeeding recontextualizations, if sufficiently similar, will inevitably be dismissed as derivative.
3. The work has usually been presented within the framework of "isolated masculine genius"-- the willful male artist transforming the world by the daring act of artistic designation.
4. The story--and mystery--of its creation do matter, however, although not in the simple sense of "stealing" but rather as a window into the complex process of collaboration that probably had something to do with is creation, and the role of women in that collaboration. In other words, for all the ways that it belies the story of isolated masculine genius.
I imagine something along the lines of:
Marcel Duchamp: We should put these people to the test. See if they will really accept any work submitted.Female Friend: [suggests something boring]MD: No, no....FF: I've got it! A urinal!MD: That's perfect.FF: I'll send it from Philadelphia. But I don't have any money.MD: I'll pay for it. And the postage.
So MD thinks it's his idea. And his work. But if there were an official "credits committee" of the Conceptual Artists Guild, they would probably review the evidence and give the FF (whoever she was) at least 50% credit.