This week, Artsper takes a look at the most controversial artwork of the 20th century, Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917). We’ll decipher it for you and tell you a few anecdotes we’ve heard about it.
Fountain is a readymade of the French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) submitted in 1917 for the show of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. The piece is a porcelain urinal turned upside down and signed with the name of the manufacturer of the object. Let’s recap what a ready-made is and a few things about this practice initiated by Marcel Duchamp. A readymade is an artwork that is not made by an artist. The artist chooses an object that was already manufactured and intervenes in order to reposition it into a new context and change its status by giving it a symbolic or unconventional title.
In this case, the original object is merely a sanitary object, a porcelain urinal turned upside down, bought from a shop belonging to the firm Mott Iron Works, in New York. Marcel Duchamp added the inscription «R. Mutt 1917» in black paint.
Here are some of the speculations and rumors that surrounded the R.Mutt name:
It seems rather clear that R.Mutt is a distortion of the name of the manufacturer, J.L Mott.
But one can also think of the possibility of a mut-ation, R-mut, or mute art, meaning that the readymade is a step forward for art or a new art form.
R.Mutt, as in “mute art”, meaning art that doesn’t “speak”. Or maybe “Armut”, meaning “poverty” in German.
And if we think further, the meaning of “mongrel” comes to mind. It is easy to make the connection to “mongrel art”, an art in which the concept is more important than the object, and in which the object is an article of everyday life that loses its utility by being named “Fountain”.
R.Mutt spelled backwards becomes Mu-ter, or mother.
It is also “Tu m’” realized in 1918 that is considered the last painting of Duchamp, spelled backwards.
And finally, R.Mutt, R.M, as in Ready Made – a practice that, without any doubt, has put into question many certainties underlying art, as, for example, the notion of virtuosity, know-how or the notion of work of art itself.