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.
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.
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.
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.