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When Brian Eno urinated in Marcel Duchamp's iconic artwork 'Fountain'

Whenever we think of Brian Eno, we think of musical genius, the man who made Talking Heads and U2, the master of Oblique Strategies, and certainly not a calculated master of the dirty protest. However, in a 1993 interview with Israeli architect Ron Arad, Eno showed that it isn’t just sonic resistance that he has become adept at. 

In the interview conducted for Arte, Eno went into detail about his eccentricities, including labelling Roxy Music an “aberration in my life” as well as the fact that he does not own a copy of The Velvet Underground simply because he doesn’t want to overplay and spoil it. 

However, the biggest shock in the interview came when he described an act of vandalism undertaken in 1990. The ex-Roxy Music man claims to have urinated in Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, an iconic piece of ‘Readymade’ art from 1917. To Eno, although ‘Fountain’ was something of a new artistic idea, “the artist was not necessarily somebody who made something but somebody who recognised something, somebody who created an art experience by naming it as such.” 

Eno then cast his mind back to the fateful day in 1990. He was due to deliver a lecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art called ‘Hight Art/Low Art’, and “there it was, sitting in the museum”. This wasn’t the first time that Eno had seen ‘Fountain’, he’d come across it at many points in the past, but like Connor and The Kurgan, this was to be the final showdown. 

He explained: “And I thought, how ridiculous that this particular … pisspot gets carried around the world at — it costs about thirty or forty thousand dollars to insure it every time it travels. I thought, How absolutely stupid, the whole message of this work is, ‘You can take any object and put it in a gallery.’ It doesn’t have to be that one, that’s losing the point completely.”

Eno continued: “And this seemed to me, an example of the art world once again covering itself by drawing a fence around that thing, saying, ‘This isn’t just any ordinary piss pot, this is THE one, the special one, the one that is worth all this money’… So I thought, somebody should piss in that thing, to sort of bring it back to where it belonged. So I decided it had to be me.”

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Although Eno’s tale sounds like a fallacy, in his 1996 book A Year With Swollen Appendices, he went into more detail about how he dealt with this ceramic embodiment of the art world’s delusions. He said: “Each time it was shown, it was more heavily defended. At MoMA it was being shown behind glass, in a large display case. There was, however, a narrow slit between the two front sheets of glass. It was about three-sixteenths of an inch wide.”

It gets even more bizarre, as Eno recalled: “I went to the plumber’s on the corner (New Yorkers might wonder what ‘plumber’ has a retail presence on the intersection of 53rd and 5th Avenue?) and obtained a couple of feet of clear plastic tubing of that thickness, along with a similar length of galvanized wire. Back in my hotel room, I inserted the wire down to the tubing to stiffen it. Then I urinated into the sink and, using the tube as a pipette, managed to fill it with urine. I then inserted the whole apparatus down my trouser leg and returned to the museum, keeping my thumb over the top end so as to ensure that the urine stayed in the tube.”

In the book, Eno then describes how he positioned himself before the display case that housed the artwork and that a guard was standing behind him, roughly 12 feet away, so the stakes were fairly high. The minimalist master proceeded to open his fly, slip out his new prosthetic member, feeding it carefully through a slot in the glass. It was a perfect fit. When positioned above the iconic privy, Eno released his thumb, and a “small but distinct trickle of my urine splashed on to the work of art.”

That evening, Eno used his baptism of Duchamp’s work as the basis of the lecture. It was accompanied by diagrams showing the audience exactly how it had been achieved – from all angles. Eno recalled: “Since ‘decommodification’ was one of the buzzwords of the day, I described my action as ‘re-commode-ification.'”

Watch the Arte interview below.