If the concept of the Readymade conditions our understanding of the aesthetic challenges posed by the mundane world of commodities within a seemingly infinite cosmos of artefacts, both artistic and otherwise, then surely there is no other art object that so fundamentally challenges our orientation towards every other work of art than the Fountain. No other object presents the viewer with such profound psycho-social and evaluative/critical ambiguities as those initiated by its original manifestation ninety four years ago. In every subsequent manifestation, both in the museumspeak of gallery directors, and in the vernacular, a Fountain is a “destination work”.
Chastened by recent debates on this site, your iconophile has thrown convention to the wind, and in the construction of his latest domestic installation he has adopted uncritically many of the design criteria espoused by his erstwhile friend Ron Radford (to whom we are indebted for the odd turn of phrase). When it comes to a work such as this, nothing is more important than the blend of architectural form and the harmonious experience of function. Everything must express its proper relation to each other, in its evocation of its historical and contemporary cultural antecedents and environments.
And so in the midst of this post-phenomenological moment, whilesoever the body-to-body paradigm remains the conventional mode of address for the artist-beholder, so it remains the primary consideration for our critical engagement with an art object such as this. These are matters on such a high aesthetic plane that the search for meaning in social or cultural practice allows no room here for distraction, no space for disciplines other than the purely aesthetic and art historical. Whenever a replica or an analogue of The Fountain is installed, every consideration of matters of natural and cultural significance should be weighed and measured. If precedents exist, they must be properly acknowledged.
Prominence is a critical aspect of the placement of such an object, and thus this Fountain has been given a prime position just inside the door, so that it may be displayed to its full advantage as a distinctive and beautiful installation away from other things. The idea is that visitors will encounter and experience the work with a complex sense of the interior/exterior spatial relationship, in circumstances enhanced by natural light and the circulation of air to maintain its unique environmental considerations with respect to the rest of the building. Sensitive to both light and humidity, it took a great deal of consideration to get all the elements correct. The overall aesthetic consideration was to reduce the introduction of alien materials in its display so that The Fountain remains the central point of attention. The final materials surrounding the Fountain are those already embodied in the object and its surroundings, all handled with dignified simplicity.
The process of installation and design engineering set out to create a harmonious context for this great work. The vitrified china (a kind of protoporcelain) body of the Fountain itself is reflected in the ceramic tiles on the walls, which being specially imported from the historic Stoke-on-Trent potteries, reflect the complexity and contradictions of our postcolonial heritage. The stones that make the floor (tumbled grey granite sourced from Byron Bay) are part of the earth and are an ideal material for the space as they serve several purposes. They prevent humidity moving vertically downward, and they hide the unsightly infrastructure below. The stones also fulfilled our requirement for a material and colour that blended with the external surroundings of the building, which are a part of the original palette of the house, and other works within the immediate environment. We have consciously used such materials in the new space to help link the old with the new.
A substantial amount of work has gone into ensuring natural daylight would be the predominant illumination for the Fountain. Blinds on the windows come down if the light levels are too high. Artificial light can be manually adjusted to ensure a correct balance throughout the day. We have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to achieve this lighting for this great work.
Contrary to conventional curatorial practice, during the early planning stages of his project your iconophile was assisted by an historian and anthropologist, in consultation with plumbers, electricians, tilers and others to ensure that this important work was displayed respectfully and beautifully. Visitors to the installation have unanimously agreed the new Fountain has been displayed with more dignity and more beautifully than ever before.
P.S. (which is an appropriately euphonic acronym, in this instance). As if to prove a point, (de faire un point, ostensiblement, as the ghost of MD reminds us) on this past March 24th this other Fountain appeared in Grange Park, Toronto, just next to the Ontario College of Art and Design. For one night only, alas…