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. × 19 1/4 in. × 24 5/8 in. (38.1 cm × 48.9 cm × 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.



Audio Stories

How Duchamp revolutionized modern art

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Fountain is arguably the most controversial single work of art in the 20th century. Yet the original was nothing more than an ordinary urinal purchased from a plumbing store, turned on its side, and signed with the name R. Mutt. That was the pseudonym Marcel Duchamp used when he submitted the urinal to the 1917 Society for Independent Artists Exhibit. At the time, committee members proclaimed that all submitted works would be shown.  



Of course when I sent it to the organizers of the Independents – because Independent shows are not supposed to have any jury. They just rejected it. They refused it, put it behind a partition during the whole show. It was very dramatic in a way. All that for a urinal.  



Fountain was one of several everyday objects Duchamp selected, then displayed as fine art. He called them readymades, and they suggested that the idea of an artwork could be as important as originality, craft, or beauty. This radical new way of thinking about art opened the way for generations of artists to come.  



I think there was definitely a scandalous intent. I think he knew that people would object to this. But Ive always felt they would have objected to pretty much anything- any of the readymades at that time.  



Art historians Michael Taylor and Francis Nauman, in conversation. 



Well, part of the idea of the readymades, of course, from the beginning, was that they were not to have any aesthetic quality. 



Aesthetic quality, right. 



He said that if he picked a readymade that was for the purpose of being beautiful, he would be falling into the same routine that others who would – lets say find driftwood on the beach. He would be picking them for beauty and as a result, it would be entering as he said, into the plane of aesthetics like everything else, like sculpture. And he wanted it to be divorced from that. The only problem is that people were too used to looking at art for the purpose of finding beauty in it.

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Other Works by Marcel Duchamp

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