Marcel Duchamp’s most glorified piece of readymade art, The Fountain, has been immortalised in a photograph that serves as the only existing record of the original article. It was a piece that revolutionized the art world and public perception of art, despite never being exhibited in its original form. It has been documented in records all over the world, and even meticulously reproduced by craftsmen. It is ironic therefore that this piece manifested the beginning of art where the artist did not need to create the object by hand or their own skill. They made art by extracting the object from its originally intended context and reinventing it as an artistic object. Duchamp argued that “Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain 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’, the Blind Man, May 1917)

With the technological developments of late, the reproduction of art pieces has become easier than ever. However a reproduction of a piece can in theory never amount to the original piece, despite its physical indistinguishability. Maybe this is a result of the art world and curators adding value to original pieces for mere monetary purposes, but in this case, as repetition was not in Duchamp’s intent, the value of the fountain truly lies in its original form. As discussed in the video below, the originality of the initial R. Mutt fountain was maintained as it was the only one to be bought and then accredited with artistic value. Having decided to maintain the unique quality of the first fountain, the replicas were purposefully created to physically resemble it. They were made reverting back to old fashioned concepts of art creation, and not the principles of the Dada movement and of the readymade style. The replicas were specifically and manually created to reproduce the exact appearance of the urinal and signature of Mutt, but are not “readymade” urinals used for artistic purpose. These visually identical copies, cannot be valued as readymade pieces at all if they are to be interpreted individually as pieces of their own right.

These pieces serve therefore the purpose, not of being artistic pieces, but as documentation of art. They symbolise the fountain in its physical form and serve to remind the viewer of the original intent. They are not Duchamp pieces, but solely replica models made by Galleria Schwarz and accredited by Duchamp.

N Roller

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) | Explore Modern Art | Multimedia | Video | The reproduction of Duchamp’s Fountain.