''Fountain'' is a readymade sculpture by Marcel Duchamp in 1917, consisting of a
porcelain Porcelain () is a ceramic A ceramic is any of the various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant materials made by shaping and then firing a nonmetallic mineral, such as clay, at a high temperature. Common examples are ear ...
urinal signed "R. Mutt". In April 1917, an ordinary piece of plumbing chosen by Duchamp was submitted for an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, the inaugural exhibition by the Society to be staged at The Grand Central Palace in New York. In Duchamp's presentation, the urinal's orientation was altered from its usual positioning.Gavin Parkinson, ''The Duchamp Book: Tate Essential Artists Series''
Harry N. Abrams, 2008, p. 61,
Dalia Judovitz, ''Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit''
University of California Press, 1998, pp. 124, 133,
''Fountain'' was not rejected by the committee, since Society rules stated that all works would be accepted from artists who paid the fee, but the work was never placed in the show area.Cabanne, P., & Duchamp, M. (1971). ''Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp''
Following that removal, ''Fountain'' was photographed at
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz
's studio, and the photo published in '' The Blind Man''. The original has been lost. The work is regarded by art historians and theorists of the avant-garde as a major landmark in 20th-century art. Sixteen replicas were commissioned from Duchamp in the 1950s and 1960s and made to his approval. Some scholars have suggested that the original work was by an unidentified female artist who had submitted it to Duchamp as a friend, but historians generally believe that Duchamp was solely responsible for ''Fountains presentation. ''Fountain'' is included in the Marcel Duchamp catalogue raisonné by ; ''The complete works of Marcel Duchamp'' (number 345).


Marcel Duchamp arrived in the United States less than two years prior to the creation of ''Fountain'' and had become involved with
Francis Picabia Francis Picabia (: born Francis-Marie Martinez de Picabia; 22January 1879 – 30November 1953) was a French avant-garde painter, poet and typographist. After experimenting with Impressionism and Pointillism, Picabia became associated with Cubi ...
, Man Ray, Beatrice Wood amongst others in the creation of an anti-rational, anti-art, proto-
Dada : left, ''Le saint des saints c'est de moi qu'il s'agit dans ce portrait'', 1 July 1915; center, ''Portrait d'une jeune fille americaine dans l'état de nudité'', 5 July 1915; right, ''J'ai vu et c'est de toi qu'il s'agit, De Zayas! De Zayas! Je ...
cultural movement in New York City. In early 1917, rumors spread that Duchamp was working on a Cubist painting titled '' Tulip Hysteria Co-ordinating'', in preparation for the largest exhibition of modern art ever to take place in the United States.''Catalogue of the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists''
/ref> When ''Tulip Hysteria Co-ordinating'' did not appear at the show, those who had expected to see it were disappointed.Sue Roe, ''In Montparnasse: The Emergence of Surrealism in Paris, from Duchamp to Dali''
Penguin UK, Jun 21, 2018,
But the painting likely never existed. '', No. 2, New York, 1917, p. 5, by Louise Norton. The article included a photo of the piece and a letter by , and writings by Louise Norton, Beatrice Wood and Walter Arensberg File:Museum in a Box - Marcel Duchamp - Cleveland Museum of Art (26647456772).jpg, A miniature of ''Fountain'' appears in Duchamp's ''Boîte-en-valise'', Cleveland Museum of Art According to one version, the creation of ''Fountain'' began when, accompanied by artist Joseph Stella and art collector Walter Arensberg, Duchamp purchased a standard Bedfordshire model urinal from the J. L. Mott Iron Works, 118 Fifth Avenue. The artist brought the urinal to his studio at 33 West 67th Street, reoriented it 90 degrees from its originally intended position of use,Adcock, Craig. ''Duchamp's Eroticism: A Mathematical Analysis''
Dada/Surrealism 16 (1987): 149–167, Iowa Research Online,
and wrote on it, "R. Mutt 1917". Duchamp elaborated:
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" which appeared at the time, and with which everyone was familiar. Thus, from the start, there was an interplay of Mutt: a fat little funny man, and Jeff: a tall thin man... I wanted any old name. And I added Richard [French slang for money-bags]. That's not a bad name for a ''pissotière''. Get it? The opposite of poverty. But not even that much, just R. MUTT.
At the time Duchamp was a board member of the Society of Independent Artists. 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 resigned from the Board, and "withdrew" ''Tulip Hysteria Co-ordinating'' in protest. "Fountain", wrote the committee, "may be a very useful object in its place, but its place is not an art exhibition, and it is by no definition, a work of art." For this reason the work was "suppressed" (Duchamp's expression).
No, not rejected. A work can’t be rejected by the Independents. It was simply suppressed. I was on the jury, but I wasn’t consulted, because the officials didn't know that it was I who had sent it in; I had written the name "Mutt" on it to avoid connection with the personal. The "Fountain" was simply placed behind a partition and, for the duration of the exhibition, I didn’t know where it was. I couldn't say that I had sent the thing, but I think the organizers knew it through gossip. No one dared mention it. I had a falling out with them, and retired from the organization. After the exhibition, we found the "Fountain" again, behind a partition, and I retrieved it! (Marcel Duchamp, 1971)
The New York Dadaists stirred controversy about ''Fountain'' and its being rejected in the second issue of '' The Blind Man'' which included a photo of the piece and a letter by , and writings by Louise Norton, Beatrice Wood and Walter Conrad Arensberg, Arensberg.''The Blind Man''
Vol. 2, 1917, p. 5.
An editorial, possibly written by Wood, accompanying the photograph, entitled "The Richard Mutt Case", made a claim that would prove to be important concerning certain works of art that would come after it: In defense of the work being art, the piece continues, "The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges." Duchamp described his intent with the piece was to shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation. In a letter dated 23 April 1917, Stieglitz wrote of the photograph he took of ''Fountain'': "The "Urinal" photograph is really quite a wonder—Everyone who has seen it thinks it beautiful—And it's true—it is. It has an oriental look about it—a cross between a Buddha and a Veiled Woman." In 1918, ''Mercure de France'' published an article attributed to Guillaume Apollinaire stating ''Fountain'', originally titled "le Bouddha de la salle de bain" (Buddha of the bathroom), represented a sitting Buddha.Guillaume Apollinaire, ''Le Cas de Richard Mutt'', ''Mercure de France'', 16 June 1918
Gallica, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
The motive invoked for its refusal at the Independents were that the entry was (1) immoral and vulgar, (2) it was plagiarism, a commercial piece of plumbing. R. Mutt responded, according to Apollinaire, that the work was not immoral since similar pieces could be seen every day exposed in plumbing and bath supply stores. On the second point, R. Mutt pointed out that the fact ''Fountain'' was not made by the hand of the artist was unimportant. The importance was in the choice made by the artist. The artist chose an object of every-day life, erased its usual significance by giving it a new title, and from this point of view, gave a new purely esthetic meaning to the object. Menno Hubregtse argues that Duchamp may have chosen ''Fountain'' as a readymade because it parodied Robert J. Coady's exaltation of industrial machines as pure forms of American art. Coady, who championed his call for American art in his publication ''The Soil'', printed a scathing review of Jean Crotti's ''Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (Sculpture Made to Measure)'' in the December 1916 issue. Hubregtse notes that Duchamp's urinal may have been a clever response to Coady's comparison of Crotti's sculpture with "the absolute expression of a—plumber." Some have contested that Duchamp created ''Fountain'', but rather assisted in submitting the piece to the Society of Independent Artists for a female friend. In a letter dated 11 April 1917 Duchamp wrote to his sister Suzanne Duchamp, Suzanne: "Une de mes amies sous un pseudonyme masculin, Richard Mutt, avait envoyé une pissotière en porcelaine comme sculpture" ("One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.") Duchamp never identified his female friend, but three candidates have been proposed: an early appearance of Duchamp's female alter ego Rrose Sélavy; the Dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven; or Louise Norton (a Dada poet and a close friend of Duchamp, later married to the avant-garde French composer Edgard Varèse),David M. Lubin, ''Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War''
Oxford University Press, 2016,
who contributed an essay to ''The Blind Man'' discussing ''Fountain'', and whose address is partially discernible on the paper entry ticket in the Stieglitz photograph. On one hand, the fact that Duchamp wrote 'sent' not 'made', does not indicate that someone else created the work. Furthermore, there is no documentary or testimonial evidence that suggests von Freytag created ''Fountain''. Shortly after its initial exhibition, ''Fountain'' was lost. According to Duchamp biographer Calvin Tomkins, the best guess is that it was thrown out as rubbish by Stieglitz, a common fate of Duchamp's early readymades.Quoted in The reaction engendered by ''Fountain'' continued for weeks following the exhibition submission. An article was published in Boston on 25 April 1917: Duchamp began making miniature reproductions of ''Fountain'' in 1935, first in papier-mâché and then in porcelain, for his multiple editions of a miniature museum 'retrospective' titled ''De ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sélavy (La Boîte-en-valise), Boîte-en-valise'' or 'box in a suitcase', 1935–66. The first 1:1 reproduction of ''Fountain'' 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 eight in 1964. These editions ended up in a number of important public collections; Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada, Centre Georges Pompidou and Tate Modern. The edition of eight was manufactured from glazed earthenware painted to resemble the original porcelain, with a signature, reproduced in black paint.


Of all the artworks in this series of Readymades of Marcel Duchamp, readymades, ''Fountain'' is perhaps the best known because the symbolic meaning of the toilet takes the conceptual challenge posed by the readymades to their most visceral extreme. Similarly, philosopher Stephen Hicks argued that Duchamp, who was quite familiar with the history of European art, was obviously making a provocative statement with ''Fountain'': :The artist is a not great creator—Duchamp went shopping at a plumbing store. The artwork is not a special object—it was mass-produced in a factory. The experience of art is not exciting and ennobling—at best it is puzzling and mostly leaves one with a sense of distaste. But over and above that, Duchamp did not select just any ready-made object to display. In selecting the urinal, his message was clear: Art is something you piss on. Since the photograph taken by Stieglitz is the only image of the original sculpture, there are some interpretations of ''Fountain'' by looking not only at reproductions but this particular photograph. Tomkins notes: :"Arensberg had referred to a 'lovely form' and it does not take much stretching of the imagination to see in the upside-down urinal's gently flowing curves the veiled head of a classic Renaissance Madonna or a seated Buddha or, perhaps more to the point, one of Constantin Brâncuși, Brâncuși's polished erotic forms." 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"), or possibly "''Urmutter''" (meaning “great mother”). The name R. Mutt could also be a play on its commercial origins or on the famous comic strip of the time, ''Mutt and Jeff'' (making the urinal perhaps the first work of art based on a comic). Duchamp said the R stood for Richard, French slang for "Money bag#Nickname, moneybags", which makes ''Fountain'' a kind of Feces, scatological golden calf. Rhonda Roland Shearer in the online journal ''Tout-Fait'' (2000) suspects that the Stieglitz photograph is a composite of different photos, while other scholars such as William Camfield have never been able to match the urinal shown in the photo to any urinals found in the catalogues of the time period. In a 1964 interview with Otto Hahn, Duchamp suggested he purposefully selected a urinal because it was disagreeable. The choice of a urinal, according to Duchamp, "sprang from the idea of making an experiment concerned with taste: choose the object which has the least chance of being liked. A urinal—very few people think there is anything wonderful about a urinal." Rudolf E. Kuenzli states, in ''Dada and Surrealist Film'' (1996), after describing how various readymades are presented or displayed: "This decontextualization of the object's functional place draws attention to the creation of its artistic meaning by the choice of the setting and positioning ascribed to the object." He goes on to explain the importance of naming the object (ascribing a title). At least three factors came into play: the choice of object, the title, and how it was modified, if at all, from its 'normal' position or location. By virtue of placing a urinal on a pedestal in an art exhibition, the illusion of an artwork was created. Duchamp drew an ink copy of the 1917 Stieglitz photograph in 1964 for the cover of an exhibition catalogue, ''Marcel Duchamp: Ready-mades, etc., 1913–1964''. The illustration appeared as a photographic negative. Later, Duchamp made a positive version, titled ''Mirrorical Return'' (''Renvoi miroirique''; 1964). Dalia Judovitz writes:
Structured as an emblem, the visual and linguistic elements set up a punning interplay that helps us to explore further the mechanisms that ''Fountain'' actively stages. On the one hand, there is the mirror-effect of the drawing and the etching, which although they are almost identical visually, involve an active switch from one artistic medium to the other. On the other hand, there is the internal mirrorical return of the image itself, since this urinal, like the one in 1917, has been rotated ninety degrees. This internal rotation disqualifies the object from its common use as a receptacle, and reactivates its poetic potential as a fountain; that is, as a machine for waterworks. The "splash" generated by ''Fountain'' is thus tied to its "mirrorical return," like the faucet in the title.
During the 1950s and 1960s, as ''Fountain'' and other readymades were rediscovered, Duchamp became a cultural icon in the world of art, exemplified by a "deluge of publications", as Camfield noted, "an unparalleled example of timing in which the burgeoning interest in Duchamp coincided with exhilarating developments in avant-garde art, virtually all of which exhibited links of some sort to Duchamp." His art was transformed from "a minor, aberrant phenomenon in the history of modern art to the most dynamic force in contemporary art."


In December 2004, Duchamp's ''Fountain'' was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals. Second place was afforded to Picasso's ''Les Demoiselles d'Avignon'' (1907) and third to Andy Warhol's ''Marilyn Diptych'' (1962). ''The Independent'' noted in a February 2008 article that with this single work, Duchamp invented conceptual art and "severed forever the traditional link between the artist's labour and the merit of the work". Jerry Saltz wrote in ''The Village Voice'' in 2006:


Several performance artists have attempted to "contribute" to the piece by urinating in it. South African born artist Kendell Geers rose to international notoriety in 1993 when, at a show in Venice, he urinated into ''Fountain''. Artist / musician Brian Eno declared he successfully urinated in ''Fountain'' while it was exhibited in the MoMA in 1993. He admitted that it was only a technical triumph because he needed to urinate in a tube in advance so he could convey the fluid through a gap between the protective glass. Swedish artist Björn Kjelltoft urinated in ''Fountain'' at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1999. 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 tried to urinate on the ''Fountain'' which was on display. However, they were prevented from soiling the sculpture directly by its Acrylic glass, 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 76-year-old French performance artist, most noted for damaging two of the eight copies of ''Fountain''. The hammer he used during the assault on the artwork caused a slight chip. Pinoncelli, who was arrested, said the attack was a work of performance art that Marcel Duchamp himself would have appreciated. 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 Actionism, Viennese Actionists' Art intervention, intervention or wikt:manoeuvre, manoeuvre.


Appropriation (art), Appropriation artist Sherrie Levine created bronze copies in 1991 and 1996 titled ''Fountain (Madonna)'' and ''Fountain (Buddha)'' respectively''.'' They are considered to be an "homage to Duchamp's renowned readymade. Adding to Duchamp's audacious move, Levine turns his gesture back into an "art object" by elevating its materiality and finish. As a feminist artist, Levine remakes works specifically by male artists who commandeered patriarchal dominance in art history." John Baldessari created an edition of multicolored ceramic Bedpan, bed pans with the text: "The Artist is a Fountain", in 2002. In 2003 Saul Melman constructed a massively enlarged version, ''Johnny on the Spot'', for Burning Man and subsequently burned it. In 2015 Mike Bidlo created a cracked "bronze redo" of ''Fountain'' titled ''Fractured Fountain (Not Duchamp Fountain 1917)'', which was exhibited at Francis Naumann, Francis M. Naumann Fine Art in 2016. "Bidlo's version is a lovingly handcrafted porcelain copy that he then smashed, reconstituted, and cast in bronze." Exactly 100 years to the day of the opening of the ''First Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists'', Francis M. Naumann Fine Art opened "Marcel Duchamp Fountain: An Homage" on April 10, 2017. The show included ''Urinal Cake'' by Sophie Matisse, Russian Constructivism (art), constructivist urinals by Alexander Kosolapov, and a 2015 work by Ai Weiwei, Ai Wei Wei.


From the 1950s, Duchamp's influence on American artists had grown exponentially. Life (magazine), Life magazine referred to him as "perhaps the world's most eminent Dadaist", Dada's "spiritual leader", "Dada's Daddy" in a lengthy article published 28 April 1952. By the mid-50s his readymades were present in permanent collections of American museums. In 1961, Duchamp wrote a letter to fellow Dadaist Hans Richter (artist), Hans Richter in which he supposedly said: Richter, however, years later claimed those words were not by Duchamp. Richter had sent Duchamp this paragraph for comment, writing: "You threw the bottle rack and the urinal into their face…," etc. Duchamp simply wrote: "Ok, ça va très bien" ("Ok, that works very well") in the margins. Contrary to Richter's quote, Duchamp wrote favorably of Pop art in 1964, though indifferent to the humor or materials of Pop artists:

Art market

The prices for replicas, editions, or works that have some ephemeral trace of Duchamp reached its peak with the purchase of one of the eight 1964 replicas of ''Fountain''. 17 November 1999, a version of ''Fountain'' (owned by ) was sold at Sotheby's, New York, for $1,762,500 to Dimitris Daskalopoulos, who declared that ''Fountain'' represented 'the origin of contemporary art'. The price set a world record, at the time, for a work by Marcel Duchamp at public auction. The record was surpassed in 2009 by his 1921 readymade ''Belle Haleine, Eau de Voilette'', a perfume bottle in its box which sold for $11.4 million.Laurie Hurwitz, ''Saint Laurent Collection Soars at Christie's Paris''
Duchamp's ''Belle haleine–Eau de voilette'', 1921, a readymade of a perfume bottle in its box, sold for a record $11.5 million (€8.9 million).

See also

*Found object *''Fountain Archive'' *God (sculpture), ''God'' (sculpture) *Art intervention *Transgressive art *''Apolinère Enameled'' *'' Tulip Hysteria Co-ordinating'' *America (toilet), ''America'', sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan



''The Blind Man''
Vol. 2, May 1917, New York City. * *Irene Gammel, Gammel, Irene
''Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada and Everyday Modernity''
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. * * * *

Further reading

* * *Schwarz, Arturo, ''The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp'', revised and expanded edition, New York 1997, no. 345, pp. 648–50 *Kuenzli, Rudolf E., Naumann, Francis M., ''Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century'', Issue 16 of Dada surrealism, MIT Press, 1991, * Adcock, Craig, ''Marcel Duchamp's Notes from the Large Glass: An N-Dimensional Analysis'', Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1983, 29–39, * Sidney Janis Gallery, ''Challenge and Defy: Extreme Examples by XX Century Artists, French and American'', The New York 57th Street Journal, 25 September 1950

External links

*[http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/duchamps-fountain.html Duchamp's ''Fountain''], Smarthistory at Khan Academy
Duchamp and the Ready-Mades
Smarthistory at Khan Academy
Duchamp and the Fountain, November, December, galley 4/9/15
{{Authority control Marcel Duchamp works 1917 sculptures Urinals Lost sculptures Modernist sculpture Found object Vandalized works of art 1910s photographs