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Dada Hammer: Laughing after all these years

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a factory-made urinal, was rejected as being unoriginal and outlandish.  After almost ninety years, Duchamp is still shocking the globe—from the National Gallery of Art’s Dada exhibition in Washington, D.C. to Pierre Pinoncelli’s hammer episode at the Pompidou Centre in Paris—Duchamp and the Dadaists are receiving plenty of ink these days.

Let’s start with Pinoncelli, the 77-year-old French performance artist. Yes, it’s true he smuggled a small hammer into the Pompidou earlier this year with intentions to “vandalize” a work of art, Duchamp’s Fountain. Although the urinal was one of eight replicas signed by Duchamp in 1964, Pinoncelli was taken into custody and fined $262,000 for degrading the knock-off urinal. In his defense, Pinoncelli stated, “I am not the cheap vandal that some would have me to be. A vandal does not sign his work. It was a wink to Dadaism. I wanted to pay homage to the spirit of Dadaism… which is disrespect.”

Is Pinoncelli an old man looking for a little notoriety, or could he be a true disciple of Dada? Manifested in the midst of World War I, Dada rejected notions of normalcy in protest of the horrific war. Dada represented the opposite of common cultural values, reflecting the absurdities of chaos and destruction in a modern world consumed by war. More than anything, Duchamp and the Dadaists reinvented our ideas of art and broke open the gates to many the last century’s art movementSandra Pinoncelli’s Pompidou stint can be considered a Dadaist act in that he challenged our perceptions by his actionSandra Defacing a urinal in the middle of the Pompidou is no rational endeavor, nor is it at all acceptable. Pinoncelli was fixated on the act and it is this raw intention void of circumstance that signifies a Dadaist work.

Duchamp gave art up for the more refined pursuit of chess, so I doubt he would be concerned with any of this hammer business, if he were alive. I’m sure he would laugh the whole ordeal off as he often employed humor in his work. And although the Pompidou may not be laughing at its chipped porcelain urinal, Marcel is no doubt chuckling in between chess games wherever he may be resting.

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