What Urinal and Flower Vase Have in Common?

'What do a urinal and a flower vase have in common?' It’s a weird question that doesn’t make any sense, right? Why would anyone try to develop a connection between two seemingly unrelated things? Funny as it may sound, Tokyo National Museum invites visitors to think about this question through a collaborative exhibition with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Marcel Duchamp. Fountain

Flower Vase with Side Opening, Known as "Onjoji". Attributed to Sen no Rikyu. Azuchi-Momoyama period, 1590. Tokyo National Museum

The exhibition, titled Duchamp and Japanese Art, showcases a selection of work by French-American artist Marcel Duchamp alongside traditional Japanese art from the museum collection. It explores the aesthetic values that Japanese art embodies and encourages visitors to rediscover the beauty of traditional art by contrasting it with the creative works by avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a French-American artist who was famous for his readymades

The exhibition consists of two parts: ‘The Essential Duchamp’ introduces the creative activities Marcel Duchamp, who is now widely seen as the "father of contemporary art", by showcasing Philadelphia’s definitive collection of his works; the second part, ‘Rediscovering Japan through Duchamp’ features Japanese art in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum.

Marcel Duchamp. Bicycle wheel. 1964 (replica of 1913 original). Philadelphia Museum of Art

From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy Box in a Valise. 1935-1941, 1963-1965 (contents); Series F, 1966 edition.

Marcel Duchamp. Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2). 1912. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist, profoundly changed the way in which we think about the creation and interpretation of art. He challenged the values of traditional Western art by exhibiting mass-produced industrial products as “art”. Best known for his readymades, Duchamp chose ordinary manufacture objects, then modified them by repositioning or joining, titling and signing, to turn them into art.

Duchamp Sitting by a Replica of Fountain

In 1917, the artist submitted an artwork entitled Fountain, a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt”, to the Society of Independent Artists. It sparked a heated discussion about the meaning of “art”. Interesting, the idea of “readymade” can also be found in Japanese art. In 1590, Sen no Rikyu, a master of the Japanese ‘Way of Tea”, transformed a piece of bamboo into a vase, rather than using an elaborate ceramic vase. 

Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) was a master of the Japanese ‘Way of Tea”

Creativity is a universal language when it comes to art, regardless of time, space or culture. Art can be found in our everyday objects, no matter how ordinary they are, as long as we see aesthetic values in them. Then we will see what's in common between a urinal and a vase, or find the connection in any items. 

Other highlights from the exhihibition

Black Raku Tea Bowl, Known as "Mukashibanashi". Studio of Chojiro; Raku ware, Kuroraku type. Azuchi-Momoyama period, 16th century. Tokyo National Museum

Writing Box, Pontoon bridge design in maki-e lacquer by Hon’ami Koetsu. Edo period, 17th century National Treasure. Tokyo National Museum

Kitagawa Utamaro. Ten Physiognomics of Women: The Fickle Type. Edo period, 18th century. Tokyo National Museum

Tawaraya Sotatsu. Dragon. Edo period, 17th century. Tokyo National Museum

Kano Tan’ yu. Dragon. Edo period, 17th century. Tokyo National Museum

Narrative Picture Scroll of the Chronicle of the Heiji Civil War: The Removal of the Imperial Family to Rokuhara. Kamakura period, 13th century. National Treasure. Tokyo National Museum

Marcel Duchamp and Japanese Art

Period: 2 October – 9 December 2018
Venue: Heiseikan Special exhibition room 1 & 2, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Address: 13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-8712, Japan
Opening hours: 9:30am - 5pm|closed on Mondays
Enquiries: 03-5777-8600
Adults|JPY 1200
University students|JPY 900
High school students|JPY 700
Junior high school students or under|Free