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A Tumor for Mr. Mutt?

In response to:

The Far-Apart Artists from the January 12, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

In Christopher Benfey’s interesting article about Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz [“The Far-Apart Artists,” NYR, January 12] he presents Marcel Duchamp as a friend of Stieglitz. The truth was that the photographer doubted the value of the Frenchman’s artistic works. Benfey’s view that the signature “R. Mutt” on the infamous urinal that Duchamp tried to exhibit in the Independent Show in 1917 was “a pun suggesting both the German word for poverty and a mongrel version of art” may be two ways to interpret it, but it is more likely meant to be read backwards and then it says: “It is humor,” as Patrick Aich has shown in his book Hunting Hearts about Duchamp. Even if Stieglitz did not read the signature that way, he may have had a good hunch as to the spirit of the mischievous Frenchman.

Lars Axel Söderberg
Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Stockholm, Sweden

Christopher Benfey replies:

Really? As in “’Tis UMR?” I’m reminded of Nabokov’s discovery, announced to Edmund Wilson, that T.S. Eliot “goes well with ‘toilets.’”

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