By Nikki Cotham & Sarah Messer


As the unknown author of the article Fountain explains, "The response to this readymade was heated at the time it was made public nearly ninety years ago and still continues to annoy viewers to this day." Here we explore some of the positive and negative reactions to "Fountain" both when it was first created and today.


Positive

There were many negative responses to this piece because, during the time period in which it was created, it was considered inappropriate and some people thought it was plagiarism. Duchamp didn't actually make the urinal, but bought and wrote "R. Mutt 1917" on it. However, not everyone thought it was a waste of creativity.

Negative

"Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp is considered to be the most influential work of art of the 20th century. It would then make sense that a majority people would agree that it was a masterpiece, but that is not the case. Both in 1917 and in current times there have been many people who criticize the urinal.

Then

  • "Now Mr. Mutt's fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bathtub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers' show windows. Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object" -The Richard Mutt Case, Letter to The Blind Man, 1917

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  • “I must confess that I really did not understand his work.” -Beatrice Wood, close friend of Duchamp

  • "The immediate response to the piece of plumbing was negative; it was perceived as an insult." -Heckman explains the initial reaction to the piece in Potty Talk

  • "It was refused entry to an art show priding itself as being open to all." -unknown author, Fountain, article in Duchamp packet

  • "Some contended it was immoral, vulgar. Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing." -The Richard Mutt Case, Letter to The Blind Man summarizes the grounds for negative reactions at the time, 1917

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Now

  • "Such is the importance of 'Fountain' that, in December 2004, it was voted the most influential work of modern art by 500 art-world professionals. In contemplation, that seems something of an understatement: with this single 'readymade' work, Duchamp invented conceptual art and severed forever the traditional link between the artist's labor and the merit of the work." -Philip Hensher, The Loo that Shook the World, 2008

  • "A Gordon's survey of artists, dealers, and critics for the most influential work of modern art finds that Marcel Duchamp's readymade Mutt urinal tops the list." -Rodcorp, 2004

  • "It is, oddly enough, an extraordinarily beautiful object. Its lovely curves have the warmly shifting shape of many of Duchamp's renderings of femininity." -Philip Hensher, The Loo that Shook the World, 2008

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  • “While I find Fountain amusing and at least historically significant, many museum visitors were truly ‘bewildered,’” noted visual arts editor Dave Gagon in a Salt Lake City newspaper in March 2003. He also noted some of the comments of spectators at an exhibition, including: “What the… it’s a stupid toilet!” “ You've got to be kidding” and “Hah! They can’t be serious.” -unknown author, Fountain, article in Duchamp packet, 2003

  • "The urinal literally flushed the notion of artistic value down the drain." -Judovitz, 1998

  • "To approach a urinal in the context of an art exhibit is definitely both strange and estranging. I remember when I first discovered that a toilet could be considered art. I was shocked and confused." -Heckman, Potty Talk, 2002

  • "While I admire this works innovation and the immense change it caused in the history of art, I loathe this work. Anytime I see it at a museum I glance at it quickly, once again experience the sheer wonder at the idea that an upside down urinal is in a museum exhibition space and not in a restroom and turn away quickly to look at other things." -blog post, The Art Daily with Lydia, 2010

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