Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’, 1950, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fountain is among the most infamous artworks of the twentieth century. Yet, the original was lost shortly after it was submitted to the Society of Independent Artists’ first exhibition in April 1917 and rejected by the hanging committee. The work became known later as an icon of New York Dada primarily through replicas, which Duchamp created first in miniature for his Box in a Valise (1935–41, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1950-134-934). Then in 1950, for the exhibition Challenge and Defy at the Sidney Janis Gallery, he authorized Janis to purchase this urinal secondhand in Paris and added his original inscription. This was the version of Fountain seen by Cage, Rauschenberg, and many others in exhibitions throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift (by exchange) of Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris, 1998

About Marcel Duchamp

Associated with the Dada, Surrealist, Cubist, and Futurist movements, Marcel Duchamp radically subverted conventional practices of artmaking and display, challenging such weighty notions as the hand of the artist and the sanctity of the art object. Duchamp’s depiction of dynamic Cubist forms in Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) established him as a leading member of the international avant-garde. In 1913 Duchamp created Bicycle Wheel, which is considered the first of his famous readymades—minimally altered objects that are elevated to the status of art simply through the designation of the artist. Particularly in his readymades, Duchamp placed unprecedented emphasis on the artistic concept as paramount over craftsmanship or aesthetics, a guiding principle that has proved hugely influential to 20th-century artistic practice.

French, 1887-1968, Blainville-Crevon Seine-Maritime, France