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Court: Defamer of famous urinal is all wet

Argument that 77-year-old added to value of Duchamp's work is rejected
/ Source: The Associated Press

A court has convicted a 77-year-old French man for attacking artist Marcel Duchamp’s famed porcelain urinal with a hammer, rejecting the defendant’s contention that he had increased the value of the art work by making it an “original.”

The court gave Pierre Pinoncelli a three-month suspended prison sentence Tuesday and ordered him to pay a $245,490 fine.

Pinoncelli also was ordered to pay $17,616 to repair “Fountain,” a work worth millions of dollars that was chipped in the Jan. 4 hammer attack at the Pompidou Center. The work was part of an exhibit of the early 20th century’s avant-garde Dada movement.

The Pompidou Center had sought more than $523,930 for the damage.

Pinoncelli — who announced that he plans to appeal the decision — told reporters that what he had done was not vandalism but a “wink” at Dadaism that had Duchamp’s blessing. “I told him in 1967 that I would do something,” Pinoncelli said.

“I added to its value,” he said, assuring that Duchamp would “have had a good laugh.”

Duchamp, who died in 1968, emphasized the creative process, and a role for the spectator.

The work has an estimated value of $3.4 million, said Marie Delion, a lawyer for the Pompidou Center. The original was lost but in 1964 Duchamp created eight other versions of the work.

After buying his ticket to the exhibit on Jan. 4, Pinoncelli attacked “Fountain” with a hammer before writing “Dada” on the sculpture.

Pinoncelli, a former salesman who calls himself a participant in the creative process as conceived by Duchamp, said that his hammer attack was an artistic endeavor. During questioning, he had told police his attack was a work of performance art and said then it might have pleased the artists of Dada.

The January urinal attack was not the first for Pinoncelli. He urinated on the piece during a 1993 exhibition in Nimes in southern France.

“The day that you understand that what belongs to someone else does not belong to you, things will go better between yourself and society,” the court said after handing down the sentence.

Pinoncelli’s actions are not limited to the Dada movement or works of art. He cut off his own finger as an expression of solidarity with Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, held hostage by leftist guerrillas since 2002.

Duchamp’s idea to transform a urinal into a work of art first appeared in 1917 when he tried to display the piece at a New York show using a pseudonym, R. Mutt. It was refused.

A 2004 poll of 500 arts figures ranked “Fountain” as the most influential work of modern art— ahead of Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Andy Warhol’s screen prints of Marilyn Monroe and “Guernica,” Picasso’s depiction of war’s devastation.