To mark the centenary of Fountain, 1917, the NMNM is presenting The Fountain Archives 2008-2017, an exhibition by Saâdane Afif, jointly produced with the Centre Georges Pompidou.
In New York, in April 1917, Marcel Duchamp submitted to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, which he was a member of, a work titled Fountain, consisting of a urinal laid on its back and signed R. Mutt, 1917. Using the pseudonym Richard Mutt, Duchamp was thus testing the limits of the fundamental principle of the Independents: refuse no work. But after the rejection in 1912 of Nu descendant un escalier at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, Fountain was in its turn refused by the young New York committee, which was supposedly open to any proposal. Without an exhibition for the second time, Duchamp decided to orchestrate the presentation of Fountain through an article published in the magazine "The Blindman" which he had co-founded. It was thus based on a reproduction (a photograph taken by Stieglitz) accompanied by an anonymous commentary (“The Richard Mutt Case”), that Fountain entered art history. That publication occurred at precisely the same time that the original work disappeared, never to be found again.
Since that first event in 1917, Duchamp’s Fountain has given rise to an endless flow of comments. From virulent criticism to unconditional homage, and from the history of ceramics to mathematical language, the diverse range of the subjects illustrated by Fountain is disconcerting and infinite.
Since 2008, Saâdane Afif has been collecting books and magazines reproducing Fountain, referencing them in an archive being presented here for the first time in the form of an installation bringing together framed works, sculptures and songs’lyrics, written for the occasion by different personalities. By appropriating the methodologies of the patrimonial inventory, and playing with traditional museographic codes, Afif questions the status of the work, its reproducibility, and the endless field of its interpretations, as well as its amazing propensity to produce narrative.
The first element, which we may describe as “active”, is made up of pages torn out of different publications featuring a reproduction of the work Fountain, 1917, by Marcel Duchamp. In accordance with the procedure established by Saâdane Afif, each one of these pages is torn out by the artist to be individually framed, then referenced under an archival number of the FA.0001 type. The NMNM is showing 36 Fountain Archives acquired in 2015, specially brought together around a copy of the Boîte-en-valise, devised by Duchamp as an album reproducing the whole of his oeuvre in a transportable form. The famous Fountain is represented here in miniature.
The second element, which we may describe as “passive”, is made up of four galvanized steel bookshelves coming from Saâdane Afif’s studio. These shelves bring together the 899 publications (ranging from travel guides to the most scholarly of art historical works) from which the pages reproducing Fountain have been torn out. By removing one page from a publication printed in an edition of several hundred, Saâdane Afif re-creates something singular. Once torn out, the page becomes unique, just like the amputated publication which, on its shelf, becomes a silent archive (a mould), without the object that gave rise to it. The presentation of the bookshelves in museographic display cases also lends them a sculptural character, by depriving the books of their usual function.
A third element enhances the first two: over the years, the research and archival work undertaken by Saâdane Afif, nothing less than a ‘work in progress’, has given rise to comments and publications themselves likely to be included in his project, as soon as a photograph of Fountain appeared. By creating an archive within an archive, Saâdane Afif has systematically indexed each article devoted to this project, under the title Fountain Archives (Augmented). In this way the project has engendered its own material and the work nurtures itself by giving rise to a commentary. Seventy-nine pages in the Augmented series are brought together on a wall facing the bookshelves, and the object of their text.