Monkeys don’t usually have access to cameras, but it’s an extreme case that reminds us of a larger point: animals create objects, images, gestures, songs, and architecture all the time. Whether we label these activities as art is both a semantic and theoretical choice. One thinker arguing that non-human creativity should be included in our definition of art is curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. She asserts that the field of contemporary art is historically determined and far from universal. People imagine that the way they live–and the broad systems that organize their society–are the best, despite the fact that these things are always changing. History never ends, but we’re constantly fooled into thinking that everything has led up to the current moment with some kind of purpose or finitude.
The pinnacle of Duchamp’s legend is the moment he submitted Fountain to the exhibition of the New York Society of Independent Artists. The exhibition, just like Salon des Indépendants in Paris, was supposed to be open to any artist, but the urinal was rejected. In some ways, Sunset Over the Adriatic and Fountain are two jokes with the same punch line. These open, democratic salons, however well meaning, couldn’t really be open to everything. The impulse of fumisme and later Dada was to poke and prod and offend until the invisible borders of decorum and good taste were revealed. Lolo accomplished this by having his artwork accepted to the salon. Duchamp, repeating the prank seven years later, made much the same point when his artwork was rejected.
At the 1910 edition of the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, a messy, muddled painting of a sunset over the sea was exhibited. Titled Et le soleil s’endormit sur l’Adriatique (Sunset Over the Adriatic), the picture was presented by the artist Joachim-Raphaël Boronali from Genoa, and was said to be a part of the “Excessivist” movement. The Excessivist movement did not exist, and neither did Boronali. Both were the invention of writer and critic Roland Dorgelès. Dorgelès and a few friends attached a paintbrush to the tail of a donkey named Lolo, a mascot and entertainer of sorts kept at a Montmartre bar called Le Lapin Agile.