Classification as Art

Marcel Duchamp took a urinal and re-classified it as a piece of art.

Librarian Suzanne Briet proposed in 1951 [1] any physical or symbolic sign could become a document; an animal in the wild is not a document, but once captured and placed in a zoo it becomes one, a stone becomes a document when it is removed from its resting place in a river and placed in a display cabinet in a museum.

Buckland infers several criteria from her writing to when an object becomes a document:

Intention (intended to be treated as evidence), Process (made into a document), Perception (Perceived as a document), Indexing (Organized within a collection of evidence)

So if Duchamp takes a urinal and intends it be treated as a artistic document then

The object itself was unchanged other than the addition of a signature (not his own, but R Mutt). The board judging the applications for the exhibition didn’t agree and threw it out, literally as Duchamp had to purchase another one when his friend Stielglitz offered to display it in his gallery.

For good or ill, depending on your own view of contemporary art, it has gone on to become one of the most influential pieces of art of the modern era.

August Sander photographing German population – recording types.

Bern and Hiller Becher with their images of industrial buildings. Photographer become like a Victorian scientist / collector.

Taryn Simon’s ‘An Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.

The influence of the museum. Karl Grimes ‘Dignified Kings Play Chess on Fine Green Silk’ – taking its title from a mnemonic for the classifications of living things (Department, Kingdon, Phylum, Class, Family, Genus, Species).

Damien Hist talks about the regional museums of his childhood where natural history exhibits would rub shoulders with paintings and sculpture. His shelves covered with pills grouped by colour groups take elements of the chaortic real world, and arrange them, order them, present them, ask us to reflect on them as a type, compare them to each other.

Art as a battle against entropy

Peter Greenaway’s exhibit at the South Bank exhibiton ‘Spellbound’ – where the elements of a film are broken down, separated and ordered by type – as if a film had been thrown in a centrifuge. ACtors, costumes, props – a film really is more than the sum of its parts – the magic lies in the interaction between the elements.

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