Funny art comes so full with sudden surrealism, intense ironies, satirical parodies and deadpan expressions of tragedies or grief that we don’t know if it is even okay to laugh at it. This is why humour in art is useful It can undermine a situation and, in a brief moment, draw the viewer in or allow something new out.
Matthew Collings documentary called ‘Hollow Laughter’ (1999) as part of series called ‘This is Modern Art’, it is an examination on the jokes used in modern art. He discusses, Marcel Duchamp and his No skill needed jokes, Sean Landers dumb jokes and Richard Prince’s paintings appropriating the common joke as artwork.
Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’ (1917), Ceramic, glazed ceramic.
Marcel Duchamp’s art jokes are not all that funny, but to him they are. Duchamp said the first thing his art was about was that it should amuse him. The one that started it all was the ‘Fountain’ an ordinary urinal bought in a shop and signed ‘R.Mutt’, sent to a big exhibition in York in 1917, rejected, thrown away, then the next day raised from the ashes and now preserved in the minds of those still puzzled by its existence. Irony is at the heart of Duchamp’s output which shows in his series of ready-mades that be just bought from factories or shops, then called them art. The ready-mades weren’t from an art world but from an industrial world, the world of mass production. Which was just a joke at first then became a series of works that greatly impacted a change in 20th-century art.
Duchamp’s outlook on art was that anything could be art as-long as the artist said it was, he first thought this in 1913 which was the birth of Avant-Gardism;
“Avant-Gardism became a name in itself something to be pursued not alongside quality but absolutely instead of quality most of us kind of think art is quality, it’s the next step up, the highest that quality can get but with Duchamp quality suddenly has a whole new meaning, one that is infinitely movable.” – Matthew Collings, Hollow Laughter (1999).
A lot of modern art jokes are about the loss of quality in modern art. It was a protest against quality in artwork, the rich want elegant looking artwork with an aesthetic, something that shows obvious skill, Duchamp wanted to go against this whole idea. Duchamp’s message was that art was congested in a certain way, in a painting and sculpture way and he wanted to decongest it, so it could be not just painting in sculpture but anything it needed to be.