m duchamp

Fountain (Duchamp)

Fountain is a 1917 work by Marcel Duchamp. It is one of the pieces which he called readymades (also known as found art), because he made use of an already existing object—in this case a urinal, which he titled Fountain and signed "R. Mutt". It was submitted to an art show as an act of provocation, but was lost shortly after this. It is a major landmark in 20th century art. Replicas commissioned by Duchamp in the 1960s are now on display in museums.


Marcel Duchamp had arrived in the United States less than two years prior to the creation of Fountain, and had become involved with Dada, an anti-rational, anti-art cultural movement, in New York City. Creation of Fountain began when, accompanied by the artist Joseph Stella and art collector Walter Arensberg, he purchased a standard Bedfordshire model urinal from the J.L. Mott Iron Works, 118 Fifth Avenue. When the urinal was in his studio at 33 West 67th Street, he turned it 90 degrees from its normal position, and wrote on it "R. Mutt 1917".

Duchamp was a board member of the Society of Independent Artists and submitted the piece under the name R. Mutt, presumably to hide his involvement with the piece, to their 1917 exhibition, which, it had been proclaimed, would exhibit all work submitted. After much debate by the board members (most of whom did not know Duchamp had submitted it) about whether the piece was or was not art, Fountain was hidden from view during the show. Duchamp and Arensberg resigned from the board after the exhibition.

The New York Dadaists stirred controversy about Fountain and its being hidden from view in the second issue of The Blind Man which included a photo of the piece and a letter by Alfred Stieglitz, and writings by Beatrice Wood and Arensberg. The text accompanying the photograph made a claim crucial to much later modern art:

In defense of the work being art, Wood also wrote: "The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges. Duchamp described his purpose with the piece as shifting the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation.

Shortly after its initial exhibition, Fountain was lost. According to Duchamp's biographer Calvin Tomkins, the best guess is that it was thrown out as rubbish by Stieglitz, a common fate of Duchamp's early readymades.The first reproduction was authorized by Duchamp in 1950 for an exhibition in New York; two more individual pieces followed in 1953 and 1963, and then an Artist's multiple was manufactured in an edition of 8 in 1964. These editions have ended up in a number of important public collections; Indiana University Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Tate Modern. The edition of 8 was manufactured from glazed earthenware painted to resemble the original porcelain, with a signature reproduced in black paint.


Of all the works in this series of readymades, Fountain is the most famous because the symbolic meaning of the toilet takes the conceptual challenge posed by the readymades to their most visceral extreme.

The artist's name

The use of the word "Dada" for the art movement, the meaning (if any) and intention of both the piece and the signature "R. Mutt", are difficult to pin down precisely. It is not clear whether Duchamp had in mind the German "Armut" (meaning "poverty"). Later in his life Duchamp himself commented on the name of the alter ego he created for this work: 'Mutt' comes from Mott Works, the name of a large sanitary equipment manufacturer. But Mott was too close so I altered it to Mutt, after the daily cartoon strip Mutt and Jeff. But not even that much, just R. MUTT. If we separate the capital and lowercase letters we get "R.M" and "utt", "R.M" would stand for "Readymade" which is the fountain itself and "utt" when read out loud sounds like "eut été" in French (much like Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q.). Together it means "Readymade once was, 1917". Word games like this are common in Marcel Duchamp's work.


In December 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British artworld professionals. The Independent noted in a February 2008 article that with this single work, Duchamp invented conceptual art and "severed forever the traditional link between... art... and... merit".

Jerry Saltz wrote in The Village Voice in 2006:


In spring 2000, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, two performance artists, who in 1999 had jumped on Tracey Emin's installation-sculpture My Bed in the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain, went to the newly opened Tate Modern and urinated on the Fountain on display there. However, they were prevented from soiling the sculpture directly by its Perspex case. The Tate, which denied that the duo had succeeded in urinating into the sculpture itself, banned them from the premises, stating that they were threatening "works of art and our staff". When asked why they felt they had to "add" to Duchamp's work, Chai said: "The urinal is there – it's an invitation. As Duchamp said himself, it's the artist's choice. He chooses what is art. We just added to it."

On January 4, 2006, while on display in the Dada show in the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Fountain was attacked by Pierre Pinoncelli, a then 76 year old French performance artist, with a hammer causing a slight chip. Pinoncelli, who was arrested, said the attack was a work of performance art that Marcel Duchamp himself would have appreciated. Previously in 1993 Pinoncelli urinated into the piece while it was on display in Nimes, in southern France. Both of Pinoncelli's performances derive from neo-Dadaists' and Viennese Actionists' intervention or manoeuvre.


Duchamp is often misquoted as saying:

However, fellow Dadaist Hans Richter explained years later that it was in a letter he had written to Duchamp in 1961, except in the second person not the first, i.e. "You threw..." etc. Duchamp had written, "Ok, ça va très bien" ("that's fine") in the margin beside it.

See also



  • The Blind Man, Vol. 2, May 1917, New York City.
  • Cabanne, Pierre (1979 (1969 in French)). Dialogs with Marcel Duchamp. [S.l.]: Da Capo Press.
  • Kleiner, Fred S. (2006). Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Tomkins, Calvin (1996). Duchamp: A Biography. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Company.

Further reading

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