In 1917, Marcel Duchamp, a French émigré residing in America, submitted an upside-down toilet for an art show held by the Society of Independent Artists in New York. He signed this piece 'R. Mutt' and placed it behind a transparent screen. His objective was to challenge previous notions of what constitutes art. This piece, in 2004, was voted the most influential modern artwork of all time by a panel of 500 experts.
At first, some critics understandably thought Duchamp's toilet was a practical joke. Indeed, some people still struggle to take it seriously. Yet this iconoclastic piece was submitted as a challenge to the art world and has influenced artists ever since. Without Duchamp's Fountain - Fountain being its legitimate name, although I prefer to call it 'toilet' - one couldn't imagine what a modern art exhibition would look like.
There is no doubt that a stroll through a modern art exhibition can be a dizzying experience. One's eye sockets will no doubt ache due to the constant eye rolls that these exhibitions seem to provoke. Furthermore, one will probably have to toil through a whole lot of pretentious bullshit before one arrives at anything of artistic merit. Modern art is shock-provoking, ostentatious and in many ways, just plain old mad. I suppose this madness is what certain people find so irritating - or, in my case, so enjoyable - about the modern art world.
What is it that I find so enjoyable about modern art? Well, if you go to London's national gallery and view the artworks of Turner or Constable, you might marvel at the draughtsmanship of the artist and the aesthetic appeal of the work. And this can be, and often is, a wholly pleasurable experience. However, this kind of art museum, with its array of often all-too-familiar works, can also be, dare I say, boring.
A modern art museum, on the other hand, with all its enigmatic conceptual art and it's seemingly pointless everyday-objects-turned-sculptures, can be a frightening and flummoxing experience, but never really boring. People seem to despise the lack of sense that is so apparent in modern and contemporary art but, for me, that lack of sense is the most exciting part. I love walking into a room with a looping video of a girl picking her nose and then shouting 'hate' at the top of her lungs. I enjoy looking at a pile of boxes and trying, and failing, to work out what exactly this work represents. I adore the crazed, maniacal performance artists dancing on top of marmalade while simultaneously whipping themselves while a discombobulated crowd looks on. The madness intrigues me.
Duchamp and his little cabal of antagonistic dada's wanted art to be a purely intellectual tool. Well, plenty of modern art, and certainly contemporary art, asks the audience to seek meaning from ostensibly nonsensical pieces and, for me, this is exciting and very rarely boring. And isn't it wonderfully appropriate that all the ostensible madness of modern and contemporary art can be traced back to an industrially manufactured object that men would usually urinate in - turned upside down, of course.