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This Secret Password May Get You Free Museum Admission All Over the World

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 5 April 2017

Sunday, April 9 marks the centennial of Marcel Duchamp‘s legendary Fountain (1917). The first-ever “Readymade” (a standard urinal turned on its side and called a work of art), Fountain has become the ultimate art history icon. So in honor of the weird and wonderful legacy Duchamp left behind, uttering a Duchampian password at allegedly participating museums around the world may just get you free admission.

Believe it or not, Marcel Duchamp’s “Readymades” were astoundingly impactful, and changed the trajectory of art forever. Frontman for the Dada “anti-art” art movement, Duchamp’s complete disdain for tradition paved the way for a new, unfettered mode of thinking about creativity.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917). Photography by Alfred Stieglitz, courtesy of Creative Commons

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’ (1917) | Photography by Alfred Stieglitz, courtesy of Creative Commons

In 1917, Duchamp inverted a urinal and slapped a fake attribution—R. Mutt—on its side. The story goes that Richard Mutt was actually the name of the plumber who built the urinal. In true Dada spirit, Duchamp anonymously submitted the “artwork” to a jury at the Society of Independent Artists in New York City, and needless to say, caused quite a stir. Fountain was immediately rejected by the jury, but Duchamp’s perspective that anything and everything could be transformed into art paved the way for generations of artists to come.

On April 9, 2017, Fountain turns 100 years old, and word on the street is that the simple, unsolicited utterance of “R. Mutt” to the front desk staff at participating museums will get you free admission between 3pm and 4pm (three was supposedly the most important number to Duchamp, who was a firm believer in numerology). According to artnet News, the Hamburger Banhof in Berlin, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City are amongst over a dozen participating institutions around the world.

But there’s a catch; no one quite knows whether the initiative is real. It was supposedly organized by Thomas Girst, BMW’s Head of Cultural Engagement by day, Duchamp devotee outside office hours. artnet reported that they reached out to Girst for confirmation after receiving a series of opaque responses from MoMA and Tate Modern in London. Girst insisted that the initiative is very real and will move forward by way of Duchamp-related performance pieces, exhibitions, and celebrations—a claim supported by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“Duchamp loved a good hoax, secret, riddle, and prank,” the museum reflects. And therein lies the point of maintaining uncertainty: you won’t know whether the initiative is real until you risk murmuring a dead plumber’s name to a stranger. If it turns out to be true, you’ll save $20. If not, rest assured that somewhere out there, Duchamp is taking great pleasure in your awkward moment.