The story is that Marcel Duchamp invented modern art in 1917 when he signed the name "R. Mutt" to a porcelain urinal and submitted it to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists at The Grand Central Palace in New York. The work, known as Fountain, was rejected and the original was lost, but today it is one of the most famous works of art in history.
But according to a new article in the magazine See All This, the work was actually created by a New York dada artist named Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who was friends with Duchamp.
In 1982 a letter written by Duchamp came to light. Dated 11 April 1917, it was written just a few days after that fateful exhibit. It contains one sentence that should have sent shockwaves through the world of modern art: it reveals the true creator behind Fountain – but it was not Duchamp. Instead he wrote that a female friend using a male alias had sent it in for the New York exhibition.
To attribute Fountain to a woman and not a man has obvious, far-reaching consequences: the history of modern art has to be rewritten. Modern art did not start with a patriarch, but with a matriarch. What power structure in the world of modern art prohibits this truth to become more widely known and generally accepted? Ultimately this is one of the larger questions looming behind the authorship of Fountain. It sheds light on the place and role of the female artist in the world of modern art.