John Sloan’s 1917 etching depicts a chilly January evening when the artist and his wife Dolly, together with Marcel Duchamp, poet Gertrude Drick, and actors Russell Mann, Betty Turner, and Charles Ellis climbed to the top of the Washington Square Arch. From above the city the “arch conspirators,” possibly influenced by the bellicose language of World War I, approved Drick’s declaration proclaiming Greenwich village “a free republic, independent of uptown.” Amidst toasts to the break-away republic the comrades brandished red, white, and blue balloons. Three months later Duchamp would publicly “break away” from traditional tenets of art-making with his bold attempt to enter Fountain—a mass-manufactured urinal rotated onto its back and signed with the pseudonym “R. Mutt”—into the Society of Independent Artists’ inaugural exhibition. Duchamp’s skillful defense of the object in the wake of its scandalous rejection would transform artmaking from that point forward by introducing a new class of object, “the readymade,” the significance of which resided not in the skill exhibited in its making, but in the idea with which the artist associated with it.
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