Bad Boys – Fountain

7:00 AM

Bad Boys
The Men Who Saw Art and Chose To Change It
Curated by Gabrielle Fenaroli


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

It’s a urinal. And frankly that’s the point. Marcel Duchamp, as with all of the other artists in this collection, fails to abide by society’s standards. All the 1917 piece consists of is a standard urinal on its back and signed “R. Mutt 1917.” So, why the fuss? Why place this in an art museum rather than in a men’s bathroom? The original may actually be in a men’s bathroom considering they cannot find it, and the one on display in the Tate Gallery is merely a replica.

However, Fountain is what Duchamp considered a “readymade,” a run of the mill object that the artist has chosen to call a work of art. A part of me wants to call BS, and question what makes an artist capable of calling such a thing art. Yet, I think that’s a discussion for another day. The point is Fountain is the antithesis of acceptable art and encompasses the meaning of the Dada movement. It personifies the meaning of change.

Duchamp got the idea when taking to his American colleagues Joseph Stella and Walter Arensburg. After the conversation, Duchamp went out to a plumbing manufacturer and purchased the urinal with the idea of making it a piece of art. He would later submit it to the Society of Independent Artists, which both he and Arensburg sat on the board for. Uncharacteristically, however, the board denied the piece a place in the show. Duchamp and Arensburg quickly relinquished their roles in protest.

A piece would come out later in the Blind Man, an art journal for the Dada movement, in which an anonymous author wrote that the point of Fountain was that Duchamp himself picked it and called it art. It no longer was a urinal because its daily use disappeared and therefore transcended its everyday meaning to become something much more in the artist’s eyes – the whole point of art and Dada movement. Now of course the writer, who presumably was Duchamp, was biased towards the piece, but that does not discount his argument. Duchamp defined his own art and did not allow society to tell him what was acceptable to present.

While part of me still is not sold on the idea, I can’t help but tip my hat to the brave artist. I consider it a low blow to your self-esteem when your piece gets rejected by a society that does not reject people. Opposed to ignoring the so called burn, he chose to confront it and stand behind – or perhaps in front of – his work.

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