'Fountain' most influential piece of modern art

Louise Jury,Arts Correspondent
Thursday 02 December 2004 01:00 GMT

It was A sculpture that tore through the very notion of art and shook the cultural establishment to its foundations.

It was A sculpture that tore through the very notion of art and shook the cultural establishment to its foundations.

Now, 87 years after he created it, Marcel Duchamp's white urinal, Fountain , was named yesterday as the most influential piece of modern art in a survey of leading figures of the art world.

With one simple act - taking an everyday object, signing it, naming it and proclaiming it a work of art - Duchamp ripped up all received notions and paved the way for artists such as Tracey Emin to present her unmade bed and Damien Hirst to unveil his shark.

In a poll conducted for Gordon's Gin as sponsors of this year's Turner Prize, a large majority of the leading artists, dealers, critics and curators named it as the work of art that has had the most impact on art today.

The 1917 original is now lost, although a replica is on view at Tate Modern, which also owns the third most influential work on the list - the Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol, one of the famous screenprint paintings he made after the actress's death in 1962.

In second place was Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which has been long regarded by many as the first great piece of modern art and might have been expected to top the poll.

Picasso's astonishing indictment of war, Guernica , was also named, as was Henri Matisse's The Red Studio , in which he developed the idea of art being about pure colour in its own right. However, the different categories among the 500 experts polled differed in their opinions. The artists voted overwhelmingly for Duchamp but also rated Donald Judd and Joseph Beuys. None of them voted for Matisse.

Simon Wilson, an independent curator and author who used to work for the Tate, said the results of the research were absolutely fascinating.

"The choice of Duchamp's Fountain as the most influential work of modern art, ahead of works by Picasso and Matisse, comes as a bit of a shock, but is not surprising," he said.

"It reflects the dynamic nature of art today and the idea that the creative process that goes into a work of art is the most important thing, and that the work itself can be made of anything and can take any form. The fact that none of the artists voted for Matisse is also quite unexpected. My guess is that his art is seen by artists as too lacking in edge and engagement with the real world."

The research was done by talking to 500 experts and devising a list of 20 major works. The respondents were asked to pick their top three. The aim was to identify key art pieces to help the public understand more about the inspiration and creative process.

The winner of this year's Turner Prize will be announced on Monday at Tate Britain.

The contenders are Jeremy Deller, Yinka Shonibare, Kutlug Ataman and Langlands & Bell, and their works are on display at the the Millbank gallery.

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