This sculpture is, in fact, a nondescript white urinal turned on its back. The flat oval back sits atop a pedestal with its scoop-like ceramic bowl pointing straight up. The thick back rim, which has become the base of the sculpture, features two ceramic screw plates and an open ceramic pipe inlet, none of which are currently in use. The only distinguishing feature of this utilitarian plumbing fixture is the crude signature which appears on the left edge in black paint. The artist, Marcel Duchamp, has signed the work ‘R. Mutt 1917’ in messy block letters.
Marcel Duchamp
Fountain, 1917/1964

After moving from Paris to New York in 1915, Marcel Duchamp became a founding member of the American Society of Independent Artists, a group dedicated to advancing the ideas of new art. For its first exhibition, in April 1917, Duchamp submitted, under a fictitious name, a urinal he had purchased in the showroom of J. L. Mott Iron Works. He turned the object on its side and placed it on a pedestal, undermining its utilitarian associations. He then signed it "R. Mutt 1917" and named it Fountain. The piece inspired heated argument among the society’s directors and was finally rejected an hour before the exhibition opened.

Fountain is one of a group of objects that Duchamp called "readymades," works with which he challenged traditional notions of making and exhibiting art. Anonymously defending the work in the press, Duchamp claimed he had "created a new thought for that object." He rejected the assumption that art must be linked to the craft of the hand and instead argued that a work of art should be primarily about the artist’s idea — a contention that became one of the most far-reaching principles of twentieth-century art, influencing artists as diverse as Robert Rauschenberg, Bruce Nauman, and Cindy Sherman. The original Fountain disappeared shortly after its creation, but in 1938 Duchamp began issuing subsequent versions of the piece, reinforcing his fundamental questioning of originality and authenticity. This is the fourth full-scale version, fabricated in 1964.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Marcel Duchamp
Date created
ceramic, glaze, and paint
15 in. x 19 1/4 in. x 24 5/8 in. (38.1 cm x 48.9 cm x 62.55 cm)
Date Acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
Not on view at this time.



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