The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

What a Joke! Marcel Duchamp’s Funny Fountain and its Complete Reversal of Art

Anne Collins Goodyear
Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Focusing on Duchamp’s careful development and execution of Fountain, in the context of his emigration to the United States, this essay explores Duchamp’s use of the tool of humor to unsettle intellectual, social, and legal conventions with an aim at prompting his audience to reexamine the deeply embedded assumptions that threaten to entrap us within the status quo.

Keywords:  Marcel Duchamp / Fountain / conceptual art / readymade / dada

On September 7, 1942, initiated readers may have smiled when they encountered “Artist Descending to America” in Time magazine. The humorous title functioned as an inside joke, clearly referencing Marcel Duchamp’s well-known Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Fig. 1).

Those in the know might also have appreciated the piece’s echo of Bessie Breuer’s 1915 interview with the artist, “The Nude-Descending-a-Staircase Man Surveys us,” heralding his first arrival in the United States (Fig. 2).

Appropriately, then, “Artist Descending to America” liberally quoted the artist’s account of his transition from France to the United States during World War II. “Dadaist Duchamp’s account of his own flight sounded like a whimsically eventful Cook’s tour,” wrote the unnamed author. “He said he posed as a cheese merchant—got out of Occupied France without any trouble at all, finally got a U.S. visa in Marseille on the strength of an affidavit from a friend in Hollywood (… Walter Conrad Arensberg, who bought his Nude Descending).” The article goes on to include Duchamp’s description of the trip as “perfectly darling” and “perfectly delicious” with “dancing on deck every night.” (102).

Duchamp’s lighted-hearted account of his departure, in stark contrast with the devastating experiences of many of his friends and acquaintances, including both his companion at the time, Mary Reynolds, who worked at great personal risk for the French Resistance, and the historian and philosopher Walter Benjamin, who tragically took his own life during an attempted escape from Occupied France, suggests a performance in its own right. Although Duchamp assured the author of the article that “the Germans and the British had authorized the trip” on the vessel, which hailed from the neutral nation of Portugal, there is no question that Duchamp understood the danger was real (Tomkins, Biography 327–28). As the ship’s manifest for the Serpa Pinto reveals, a significant number, if not a majority, of passengers, were of Jewish descent.1 And, indeed, Duchamp’s own escape from Vichy-occupied France was harrowing.  The breezy description offered in Time magazine of Duchamp’s departure belies the anxiety the artist experienced in attempting to leave war-torn Europe. As his friend, Henri-Pierre Roché noted in a diary entry on July 14, 1941, “It is the first time I have seen him a little down. His departure for the USA now seems uncertain” (Tomkins, Biography 327). Correspondence preserved by Mary Dreier testifies to copious efforts on her part as well as those of her sister, Katherine, Alfred Barr, Walter Arensberg, and others to reach the U.S. State Department and the French government to secure a visa for the artist, who, Barr noted on January 5, 1942, “is most anxious to emigrate.”2 While Duchamp and his fellow passengers may have felt a surge of joy in leaving a dangerous political climate, the words offered in Duchamp’s interview seem discordant with the violence, loss, and uncertainty associated with the mass emigration from France and other European nations.

Rather than representing a form of insensitivity, however, in reversing expectations, and deliberately making light of his own circumstances, Duchamp’s narrative functioned as a form of resistance: a deliberate refusal to take seriously the threat of Nazi oppression. Instead of offering a transparent account of his journey, then, Duchamp, as he would later put it, “played my part as artistic clown” (Cabanne 89).  The reference to stepping into character, and thus transforming himself, and to the humor with which Duchamp endowed such a role, suggests the care with which he cultivated light-hearted nonchalance. Humor was serious business for the artist.

Certainly, this was not lost on Duchamp’s old friend Henri Pierre Roché, to whom he offered a very particular parting gift: a tiny replica of his revolutionary 1917 readymade, Fountain. Roché recognized it as “a little masterpiece of humoristic sculpture, the color of cooked shrimp, with such absurd and carefully made holes” (Tomkins, Biography 328). Created for Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise, a carefully curated case of miniatures of his most important works, developed between 1935 and 1941, the small-scale Fountain clearly had special significance for the artist, indicated in part by the high monetary value he placed upon it in subsequent years (Camfield 72–73). If the parting gesture testified to Roché’s special role as an accomplice in the dramatic events that would make the artwork, and its maker, infamous, it may also suggest that the small “Madonna of the Bathroom” functioned as something of a talisman for the endangered artist, and a reminder of the power of humor in turning the tables on an authoritarian system bent on the oppression of “otherness.”

While the sheer hilarity of Duchamp’s Fountain has rightly been noted by other commentators, it is my aim to examine this episode not merely as a clever prank in and of itself, one that drew attention to the cultural conservatism of those who sought to cast themselves as innovators, but rather as a seminal moment in Duchamp’s career as a whole.3  Exemplifying Duchamp’s commitment to the invocation of humor as a strategic tool for undermining the status quo by challenging rote habit, the Richard Mutt Case reflects a carefully choreographed effort to expose and discredit not only aesthetic mores, but, even more powerfully, the dangerous social prejudices that upheld them. “I wanted to find something to escape that prison of tradition,” Duchamp would explain to Calvin Tomkins in a 1964 interview. “Tradition is the prison in which you live. How can you escape from those pincers?” (Tomkins, Interviews 83).

In June 1915 Duchamp arrived for the first time in New York from Paris. But although Duchamp had not previously visited the United States, he was already well-known to American audiences. Just two years earlier, in 1913, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (see Fig. 1) had become a cause célèbre at the International Exhibition of Modern Art, popularly known as the Armory show after the New York venue that hosted it. The exhibition, which would later travel to Chicago and Boston, was widely vilified and caricatured, as American audiences, largely unfamiliar with painterly abstraction, struggled to come to terms with the new form of figuration. But of all the puzzling paintings that greeted Americans, which included works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Wasily Kandinsky, none was as bewildering as that of Marcel Duchamp.  As viewers—including, famously, Teddy Roosevelt—attempted to digest the unfamiliar pictorial language, newspapers ran contests to guess its meaning, while artists attempted to decipher it with caricatures. The American Art News ran a contest to solve “The Armory Puzzle,” while the New York Evening Sun, under the guise of “Seeing New York with a Cubist” reimagined the work as “The Rude Descending a Staircase (the Subway at Rush Hour)” (Fig. 3).4

Duchamp, who had matured in France in the shadow of two elder and more prominent artist brothers, happily claimed the “readymade” identity of “iconoclast” that awaited him on American shores, and relished the association with his scandalous painting, perhaps taking note of the critical role humor had played in enabling American audiences to warm up to, even embrace, an audacious and unfamiliar example of modern art.5  In published interviews and statements, the beguiling Frenchman deliberately broke with conventional wisdom, clearly relishing the dramatic effect of his words, and emphatically rejected an art of the past, which he associated with the old world of Europe, aligning himself instead with the art of the future, which, he signaled, stood poised to emerge on American soil.

In a September 1915 interview with the artist, conducted by the journalist Bessie Breuer, under the guise of “The Nude-Descending-a-Staircase Man Surveys Us” (see Fig. 2), Duchamp hinted at a quest to revolutionize artmaking and his conviction that such an aspiration could best be achieved in the nation in which he had recently taken up residence.6  As he recounted:

I cannot understand the views my compatriots have expressed about New York. I know of no city where I would rather be…
The capitals of the Old World have labored for hundreds of years to find that which constitutes good taste and one way say that they have found the zenith thereof. But why do people not understand how much of a bore this is? In Paris, for instance, everything is perfectly blended and in perfect harmony—never in a whole day does one see anything the tiniest bit out of place. But here—from the very instant one lands one realizes that here is a people yearning, searching, trying to find something.
If only America would realize that the art of Europe is finished—dead—and that America is the country of the art of the future, instead of trying to base everything she does on European traditions! And yet in spite of it, try as she will, she gets beyond these traditions, even if in dimension alone.
Look at the skyscrapers! Has Europe anything to show more beautiful than these?

In praising the accomplishments of American engineering, and suggesting that its aesthetic merits rivaled or even outstripped those of the fine arts of Europe, Duchamp clearly intended to disrupt the expectations of his audience, realigning perceptions of his creative activities. Indeed, in an interview published the same month for readers of Arts and Decoration, with the equally eye-catching and even more defiant headline “A Complete Reversal of Art Opinions by Marcel Duchamp, Iconoclast,” Duchamp continued to praise, perhaps with a grain of ironic humor, the sheer magnitude of American buildings, firmly declaring their triumph over the historic culture of the old world: “In architecture the Florentine palaces here have disappeared with the advent of the skyscraper...Assuredly the Plaza hotel with its innumerable windows, voraciously taking in light, is more beautiful than the Gothic Woolworth Building, but I like the immensity of the latter” (428).

Duchamp’s interviewer took the bait, complimenting his subject’s “American” qualities and assuring readers that this “iconoclast” was not a “typical artist.” Thus, the editorial introduction explained:

Monsieur Duchamp explodes figurative bombs in a tone that his matter of fact but not arrogant. He is neither modest nor vain. He has...a figure that would seem American even among Americans. He neither talks, nor looks, nor acts like an artist. It may be that in the accepted sense of the word he is not an artist. In any case he has nothing but antipathy for the accepted sense of any of the terms of art. (427).

Duchamp’s deliberate self-distancing from the arts, or at least traditional perceptions of thereof, as he introduced himself to an American audience was hardly accidental, but reflected a shrewd calculation on his part. As he would later tell James Johnson Sweeney, “I am sick of the expression 'bête comme un peintre'—stupid as a painter” (Sweeney 21). Having arrived in the United States, with Europe far behind him, Duchamp would reposition himself not as an artist adopting a particular mode of expression to please others, but rather as an intellectual using visual techniques to express radical new ideas. Upon arriving in the United States, then, Duchamp, would lay the groundwork for the development of a practice of a conceptual art premised on ideas rather than handicraft, and in so doing would revolutionize the practice of art in America and beyond. Yet his approach would not be ponderous and didactic, but instead premised on wit. Asked in 1960 by Guy Viau to “what power do you attribute to humor?,” Duchamp replied, “A great power; humor was a sort of savior so to speak because, before, art was such a serious thing, so pontifical that I was very happy when I discovered that I could introduce humor into it. And that was truly a period of discovery. The discovery of humor was a liberation....[Humor] is not only about laughing....And it's only because of humor that you can leave, that you can free yourself” (Viau and Duchamp).

If humor relies to a large degree upon one’s ability to overturn inherited expectations, Duchamp’s own success in reimagining art was in large part tied to his ability to distance himself both intellectually and physically from the historic conventions of European “good taste,” which the artist associated with damaging addiction of “a habit-forming drug” (Tomkins, Interviews 55). Prohibited from French military service during World War I due to a heart condition, Duchamp left his home behind, telling The New York Tribune in October 1915, “I came over here, not because I couldn’t paint at home, but because I hadn’t anyone to talk with. It was frightfully lonely” (“French Artists”). Dispelling Duchamp’s loneliness was not only the novelty of the new world, but also other sympathetic European immigrants, such as the Italian-born Joseph Stella, the French-born Francis Picabia and Henri-Pierre Roché, and the Swiss-born Jean Crotti, with whom he would share a studio, and who would later become his brother-in-law when Crotti married Duchamp’s sister, Suzanne. Key to the bonding of these expatriates was their mutual enjoyment of impish artistic gestures designed to denigrate tradition. Inspired by the fresh slate New York seemed to provide, and taking pleasure in his newly-minted public persona as iconoclast, Duchamp found himself revisiting a question he had recorded for himself on a scrap of paper in 1913: “Can one make works which are not works of 'art'?” (Duchamp, Writings 74).
This question was clearly active in the artist’s mind in late 1915 when he visited a hardware store with his future brother-in-law. There Duchamp made an important acquisition, selecting a snow shovel—an implement he had not previously encountered in France—to become the first American instance of a new form of art he christened the “readymade."7 Years later Duchamp reported "how pleased and proud Crotti had looked as he carried their purchase, slung like a rifle on his shoulder, the few blocks to their shared studio.” There Duchamp would transform it by adding the unconventional title, “In Advance of the Broken Arm,” and signing it “[from] Marcel Duchamp 1915.” He then attached a wire to it and hung the object from the ceiling (see Fig. 6 below) (Tomkins, Biography 156–57). Through his readymades, Duchamp had found a strategy for breaking with the strictures of taste.8

On January 15, 1916 Duchamp wrote his sister Suzanne, referring to the selection of this “readymade,” and formally coining the term (Naumann and Obalk 43–44). He would then enlist her assistance in the creation of a “‘Readymade’ from a distance,” asking her to inscribe, and thus manufacture, another readymade, the bottle rack.9  As though confirming the importance of the American context that enabled him to break with inherited aesthetic values, Duchamp would even consider including the Woolworth Building, then only three years old and the world’s highest skyscraper, in his new experiment in art-making. “Find inscription for Woolworth Bldg. as readymade,” he urged himself in a note likely composed at the same time he sent his instructions to Suzanne.10

A month later, Duchamp would further refine his process of intellectual transformation, creating another such work, Comb, inscribed with the phrase “3 ou 4 Gouttes de Hauteur n’ont rien a voir avec la sauvagerie,” or, in English, “Three or four drops of height have nothing to do with savagery.” While the phrase has given rise to many different interpretations, I would prefer to focus on another aspect of the inscription, Duchamp’s designation on the work of the date and time of its creation, February 17, 1916, 11:00 a.m. He would later emphasize among his “Specifications for ‘Readymades’” the significance of the inscription of the readymade with date and time of its creation. As Duchamp wrote, “The important thing then is just this matter of timing, this snapshot effect” (Duchamp, Writings 32). Like a photograph, then, the ready-made resembled in virtually every conceivable fashion the original that inspired it with no alteration save its inscription and recontextualization.

But it was precisely there, of course—in this conceptual intervention signified by the title—that the creative transformation could be located, marking the object as Duchamp’s own. And in describing the exact moment of the arrival of the creative inspiration, Duchamp time-stamped his new readymade as an original work of art. In so doing, Duchamp, who had earlier professed his admiration of American engineers, cast himself as an inventor of a new sort. He was well aware of the humorous “derision” implicit in doing so by casting ubiquitous utilitarian objects as works of art (Tomkins, Interviews 54). As he would laughingly tell Calvin Tomkins, “I, with my Cartesian mind, refused to accept anything, doubted everything...[But] [h]aving invented [the idea for the readymades] there was no doubt about them, ever. All along, I had that search for what I had not thought of before” (Tomkins, Interviews 64). Nearly fifty years later, Duchamp’s ruminations about the readymades as “tasteless” objects born of his quest for something utterly new would echo in uncanny fashion the very qualities “the Nude-Descending-a-Staircase Man” had told Bessie Breuer he admired about New York. In America, Duchamp had found himself. 

Excited as Duchamp clearly was by his invention of the readymade—several photographs of them appear adorning his studio—he had a problem. Describing the conundrum in his 1957 analysis of “The Creative Act,” Duchamp noted, “In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius; he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Art History” (Duchamp, “Creative Act” 77). As he would later put it even more succinctly: “If there’s no onlooker there’s no art, is there?” (Tomkins, Interviews 56). Duchamp, quite simply, needed an audience. The necessity became even more apparent when, in April 1916 he put two of his new readymades on view, at the Bourgeois Gallery in New York. The response was so underwhelming, with visitors failing even to notice them, that posterity can only guess which pieces he chose to include.11

If the public had no capacity to appreciate Duchamp’s revolutionary readymades, he must have taken some comfort in the reception he was receiving from artistic circles. Playfully upending the artistic traditions of the old world, and embracing the creative stimulation of the new, Duchamp quickly became an active part of the circle that had coalesced around Walter Arensberg, who generously supported Duchamp, in exchange for the opportunity to acquire his work. Charles Demuth’s The Purple Pup, (Fig. 4) named for the café whose lively cliental it depicts, reflects Duchamp’s increasingly prominent role in this community.

At its center, Duchamp appears with the author Carl van Vechten immediately on his right. Above Duchamp hovers the collector Walter Arensberg, with his wife, Louise just behind the artist.12 Duchamp’s pink complexion might playfully betray his new-found fondness for American cocktails, but even more notable is his magnetic presence, which seems to attract the gaze of virtually every other patron. As Duchamp’s friend, Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, would observe, “He was personally delightful with his gay ironies. The attitude of abdicating everything, even himself, which he charmingly displayed between two drinks, his elaborate puns, his contempt for all values, even the sentimental, were not the least reason for the curiosity he aroused and the attraction he exerted on men and women alike” (Tomkins, Biography 165).

The convivial scene depicted by Demuth may well capture the co-conspirators that Duchamp would enlist in a campaign as witty as it was ingenious to bring new notice to his readymades. In 1916, perhaps in the wake of the disappointing reception of his readymades at the Bourgeois Gallery, Duchamp helped establish the Society of Independent Artists. Modeled after the Paris-based Salon des Indépendants, the group planned a radically democratic policy captured in the motto: “No Jury. No prizes. Hung in alphabetical order” (D’Harnoncourt and McShine 16). The bylaws of the new organization, established in December 1916, decreed that anyone who paid their annual dues of $5.00 and the additional $1.00 entry fee would be entitled to join the society and to exhibit two works in the inaugural exhibition (Catalogue, foreword). Duchamp took charge of the hanging committee. Within two weeks of the release of its first announcement in early 1917, the fledgling society had attracted 600 members, eager to see the United States as a new home for modern art, particularly as Europe staggered under the weight of war. Financial support for the undertaking, and an inaugural spring exhibition, was supplied by leading members of New York society, who included Archer M. Huntington, Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney (Tomkins, Biography 180).

As Duchamp and his fellow directors prepared to launch the new enterprise, he laid the groundwork to give the readymade a roaring introduction to the public, in all likelihood taking note of the succès du scandal that had made his Nude Descending the Staircase, No. 2 infamous (see Fig. 1). Though Duchamp would report toward the end of his career that the idea for the Fountain, signed by the infamous and fictitious Richard Mutt, grew out of a conversation with Walter Arensberg and the artist Joseph Stella, shortly before the Independents show was scheduled to open, the complexity of the ruse belies the notion that this was by any means a casual prank. Indeed Duchamp, living next door at 33 West 67th Street to Walter Arensberg, who generously covered his rent in exchange for the acquisition of artworks, had been in active discussion with his friend and patron about his readymades since January 1916, and had even given him one—a hollowed-out ball of twine entitled Object with Hidden Noise.13 The inspiration for the Fountain, then, grew out of ongoing conversations, and reflected Duchamp’s desire to generate public attention for readymade sculptures. As Duchamp recounted in a 1953 interview with Harriet and Sidney Janis, “It had to be scandalous—the idea of scandal was presided to the choice...we sent it [the urinal] to the Independents and the poor fellows couldn’t sleep for three days” (Taylor 31).

Thus, in early April, Duchamp, Stella, and Arensberg walked into the J.L. Mott Iron Works showroom at Fifth Avenue and 17th Street and selected a “Bedfordshire” model urinal in white porcelain (Fig. 5).

Duchamp (perhaps with Stella’s assistance) transported the appliance to his studio, and signed the commode with the signature of the fictitious Richard Mutt—the first of many humorous pseudonyms with which he would associate himself during the course of his career. Was it any coincidence that the initials “R.M.” of the nom de plume chosen by Duchamp, who delighted in word play, emulated those of the new category of object he had introduced: the “ready-made”? Significantly, the very placement of the name was itself critical to the conceptual transformation of the commode into a work of art. In his placement of the signature of “R. Mutt” on Fountain, Duchamp shifted the flat back of the receptacle, the side that that would normally be installed against a wall, ninety degrees, repurposing it as the base of his artwork, and prompting a new way of seeing and thus understanding the original object. Shortly before the exhibition’s opening, likely on or about Friday, April 6, Fountain, was delivered, together with the Mr. Mutt’s six-dollar combined membership and entry fee, to the Grand Central Palace, to assume its rightful place in the alphabetical arrangement of the Society of Independent Artist’s inaugural exhibition.14

The resulting uproar, witnessed by Beatrice Wood, which pitted an infuriated George Bellows claiming the work was “indecent” against Walter Arensberg studiously upholding the bylaws of the Independents by insisting that “if [it] is an artist’s expression of beauty, we can do nothing but accept his choice,” must have delighted Duchamp (Camfield 26).15  In the ensuing debate, playing out until virtually the opening moment of the exhibition, a majority of the directors of the Society of Independent artists voted to exclude the work, with the Board’s majority going on record to assert that Fountain was "by no definition, a work of art" (“His Art Too Crude for Independents”).  The decision to reject Mutt’s submission led to the prompt resignation of Duchamp and Arensberg from the Board, in a move they had likely foreseen. Indeed, as if on cue, and to ensure the succès du scandal would not dissipate in light of the suppression of the work, Fountain was soon transported to Alfred Stieglitz’s celebrated 291 Gallery. There the esteemed photographer recorded the object in a famous photograph that would come to serve as pictorial documentation of record for the original work, which was soon thereafter lost.16 The likeness, which emphasized the work’s glistening curves, would almost immediately be prominently published in an avant-garde journal, The Blind Man (see Fig. 5). If Stieglitz’s picture and the responses it prompted had, as Michael Taylor has persuasively argued, the effect of emphasizing the work’s elegance in a fashion that was out of step with Duchamp’s own desire to signal his break with such traditional standards of artistic success, the composition nevertheless demonstrated critical aspects of Duchamp’s assault not only on aesthetics, but on other social codes (Taylor 41–57).

To this end, the implicit comparisons Stieglitz’s picture drew to religious imagery are worthy of further attention. Stieglitz himself and Louise Norton would both emphasize the object’s similarity to the Buddha.17 Carl van Vechten joked to Gertrude Stein that “this porcelain tribute was bought cold in some plumber shop (where it awaited the call to join some bath room trinity)...[Stieglitz’s] photographs make it look like anything from a Madonna to a Buddha.”18  Might Van Vechten’s jocular reference to Christian imagery have been inspired in part by the calendar?

Indeed, one of the most intriguing, if previously overlooked, aspects of the Steiglitz’s photograph is the timeline associated with it. As Duchamp would later recount to Harriet and Sidney Janis, following the Board’s decision not to include Fountain, “the thing was taken away and put somewhere, we couldn’t find it for three days...somebody...found it behind a partition” (qtd. in Naumann 2). The three-day time lapse between the “sacrifice” of the threatening object, which broke with orthodoxies of the past, and its “resurrection” from its “tomb” behind a partition has uncanny resonance with the story of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and his rebirth on Easter Sunday.19

Duchamp’s report, whether or not its factual accuracy can easily be verified, in turn points up another, previously unnoticed dimension of the plot behind Fountain: its timing. It is surely no coincidence that the delivery, rejection, and reclamation of Fountain all transpired over Easter weekend and Easter week in 1917, heightening its symbolic significance and thus making the joke behind it all the funnier. Intriguingly, Beatrice Wood, also recalled that it was three days after the opening of the Independents that Duchamp and his supporters brought Fountain, disavowed by the Independents, to Stieglitz, who would resuscitate the work through his photograph coverage, destroying traditional artistic orthodoxies in the process.  Might the felicitous timing, suggestive of a deeper aim to “christen” a new era in art, to build a new catechism of sorts, have been conceived the previous Easter, in April 1916, when Duchamp began work an earlier readymade, With Hidden Noise? He would present the work to Arensberg on New Year’s Eve, when this patron of modern art “completed” Duchamp’s piece by inserting into the sculpture an unidentified object which became audible when shaken. The timing was inscribed on the work, which was signed “Sophie Marcel/Pâques 1916 – 31 Décembre 1916.”20  Duchamp, who would later note that his January 16, 1954 marriage to Teeny Matisse Duchamp fell on the feast day of “St. Marcel,” was surely no stranger to Christological imagery.21

Indeed, as if to further hammer home the religious spoof represented by this “fountain,” already rife, by implication, with references to baptism and the Eucharist, Duchamp would install the object in his studio in the lintel of his doorway (Fig. 6), humorously testifying to its apotheosis.

In staging the documentation of this object in a lofty corner, Duchamp may also have been making a joke at the expense of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich. Slightly over a year earlier, in the Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0,10, staged in Petrograd, the Russian suprematist had signaled his spiritual investment in his radical painted abstractions by placing his Black Square (1915) in the same elevated position normally occupied by Russian icons (Fig. 7).

Comparing such a devotional display to aesthetic dogma, Duchamp would later tell Calvin Tomkins, “When people speak of art on a very religious level, I try to explain to myself that it is not much to be revered. It’s a drug. Like religion to the Russians. And I’m more and more convinced of that” (Tomkins, Interviews 56).22

Fountain not only mocked Christian doctrine, but also the values it imposed, such as lending support to a legal ban on homosexuality. As Paul Franklin and Michael Taylor have demonstrated, Fountain implicitly referenced queer culture through the association of urinals with public restrooms and bathhouses, where men might seek out anal intercourse (Taylor, “Blind Man’s Bluff” 29; Franklin 25–50). Such an association was further emphasized by Stieglitz’s juxtaposition of Fountain with The Warriors, a painting by a gay artist, Marsden Hartley, which explicitly depicted male soldiers from behind. Fountain, then, lampooned latent discomfort with queerness by forcing it into the open.23 The “indecency” derided by Bellows, then, likely had little to do with the bathroom fixture itself, but to what it implied.24

Might the watercolor of another gay artist, Charles Demuth, represent something of a celebration of what Duchamp had accomplished with Fountain? Not previously discussed in relationship to “The Richard Mutt Case,” Demuth’s The Purple Pup (see Fig. 4) appears to document playfully the Fountain scandal, picturing, as it does, several of the key participants. If Duchamp appears at the work’s center, highlighted with a dash of red across his face, he is also part of a visual triangle that includes to the left, figures who appear to be Henri Pierre Roché and Beatrice Wood. These two friends would team up with Duchamp to publish “The Richard Mutt Case,” a brilliant defense of Fountain.25 The triangular arrangement of the positions they occupy in the composition may also hint at romantic entanglements that linked the three friends, while Roché’s intense gaze at Louise Arensberg hints at yet another liaison.26 Stationed above Duchamp as noted earlier, is Walter Arensberg, a critical player in the escapade. Opposite him, framing the work on the left edge, with a balding head and broad chin appears to sit the artist Joseph Stella, another co-conspirator. To the right, at Duchamp’s elbow, appears, in profile, the author Carl van Vechten, who, as noted above, transmitted news of the Fountain scandal overseas to Gertrude Stein (Camfield 35).

Although Demuth himself does not appear, he ranked among Duchamp’s most enthusiastic advocates and eagerly supported the cause represented by Fountain.27 To this end, he penned a short poem: “For Richard Mutt,” published in The Blind Man alongside other defenses of Fountain. Demuth’s literary testimony began with the declaration: “One must say everything--/then no one will know” (6). The cryptic opening line may refer in part to the humorous caricature Demuth created documenting the small circle of intimates who helped Duchamp carry off the Richard Mutt affair.

But it may also point to the fact that Demuth’s own activities regarding Fountain were not limited to his literary and visual tributes. Outraged by the hypocrisy revealed by decision by the Board of the Independents not to exhibit Fountain, Demuth wrote art critic and Arensberg circle regular Henry McBride, urging him to see Fountain and to report about what had transpired. The note’s postscript is, ironically, perhaps the most intriguing element of the missive: “If you wish any more information,” Demuth urged McBride, “please phone Marcel Duchamp 4225 Columbus, or, Richard Mutte [sic?], 9255 Schuyler” (Camfield 29–30). Demuth’s encouragement to McBride to contact Duchamp or Mutt suggests that he knew that the number he provided for Mutt actually belonged to Louise Norton, a close friend of Duchamp, and the early recipient—like Arensberg—of a readymade.28 Norton had also allowed her street address to be used on Mutt’s entry card (Taylor, “Blind Man’s Bluff” 35). With this in mind, another portrait, and its placement in The Purple Pup, takes on new significance. Hovering subtly, but distinctly, above Duchamp appears Norton, with her distinctive dark bobbed hair and her head framed by the feather plumes of the hats worn by Wood and Louise Arensberg. To the left of Norton her paramour, and future husband, the composer Edgar Varèse, gazes adoringly at her.

The identity of two other figures in the drawing is more difficult to determine, but it may be that the blond-haired gentleman across from Duchamp is John Covert, whose hidden face may suggest a playful pun on his name. An artist and cousin to Walter Arensberg, Covert, as another member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Independent Artists, played a role in convincing Stieglitz, together with Duchamp, Roché, and Wood, to photograph Fountain (Camfield 34). Might the lady to his right, looking somewhat startled, represent Katherine Dreier, yet another member of the Board of the Society of Independent Artists, and devoted friend and patron of Duchamp?

While not conclusive, such possible identifications may indicate Demuth’s sensitivity to the most poignant question posed by Richard Mutt’s Fountain—not one primarily of decorum, as George Bellows would have it, but, rather, of originality and authorship, which is to say, as Louise Norton would put it: “What is ART?” (Norton 6). It was indeed this important question that Duchamp immediately recognized his humorous, but poignant, readymade sculptures posed. As Duchamp would later tell an interviewer, “I’m not at all sure that the concept of the Ready-Made isn’t the most important single idea to come out of my work” (Kuh 92.) Elaborating still further, he explained, “They look trivial, but they’re not. On the contrary, they represent a much higher degree of intellectuality [than my other work]” (Roberts 62).

The crux of the issue was eloquently expressed by Katherine Dreier in a letter of April 13th urging Duchamp to reconsider his resignation from the Board of Directors of the Independents given the rejection of Fountain:

When I voted "No," I voted on the question of originality—I did not see anything pertaining to originality in it; that does not mean that if my attention had been drawn to what was original by those who could see it, that I could not also have seen it. To me, no other question came up: it was simply a question of whether a person has a right to buy a readymade object and show it with their name attached at an exhibition? Arensberg tells me that it was in accord with you [sic] ‘Readymades,’ and I told him that was a new thought to me. (Camfield 30)

The question of intellectual property implicit in Dreier’s description of her conundrum was, as we shall see, an issue of pressing significance at the time, not just within the art world, but also within the context of the courts, which sought to make sense of the nature of creative work, and the critical question of how to define and therefore to protect creative ideas, particularly in the wake of the introduction of numerous new recording technologies, such as the phonograph and the record. Fueled by new legislation introduced by the 1909 Copyright Act, Duchamp’s Fountain stood not just as a challenge to the art world establishment, but also provided a vivid testimony to very question of how creative expression itself should be defined.  In ridiculing religious and social pretensions with his unprecedented work, Duchamp would playfully reveal, and subsequently exploit, a familiarity with American copyright law that would support his most provocative claim: that Fountain represented a work of real originality and, hence, a new chapter in the history of art. As such, the canny Duchamp may already have recognized in 1917 that the “judgement” to be delivered by posterity would assure an object originally intended for private contemplation a very public role in museums of the future.29

In this context, the work’s defense, penned by Duchamp, Roché, and Wood under the guise of “The Richard Mutt Case,” and published in The Blind Man (see Fig. 5) with Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph is worth citing at length:

They say any artist paying six [sic] dollars may exhibit.
Mr. Richard Mutt sent in a fountain. Without discussion this article disappeared and never was exhibited.
What were the grounds for refusing Mr. Mutt’s Fountain: --

  1. Some contended it was immoral, vulgar.
  2. Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing.

Now Mr. Mutt’s fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bath tub 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. (5)

The very rationale put forward by advocates of the Fountain, not to mention the substance of the work itself, has uncanny similarity to a description of originality laid out in the February 1917 issue of the Virginia Law Review in an article addressing “The Scope of the Law of Copyright,” by Herbert A. Howell, who wrote, “A work original in the sense of the law although the materials of which it is composed can all be traced out in former works, provided the author by the exercise of selection, arrangement and combination has produced anything substantially new.” Duchamp’s Fountain, was, of course, quite literally fashioned of the material of a former work, but arranged in a novel fashion. Howell’s article concluded on a note that undoubtedly would have been relished by Duchamp and his supporters, asserting, “The law is not exacting as to the degree of originality or merit required, but will protect almost every product of literary or artistic labor evincing in its make-up that there has been underneath it in some substantial way the mind of a creator or originator” (387, 390).

If Duchamp did indeed happen to learn of this article, perhaps through his friend, the lawyer and art collector John Quinn, he might have been particularly delighted to see reference in the article to a well-known case of copyright infringement concerning the manufacturer of the urinal that had spawned Fountain: Mott Iron Works. As Howell explained, Mott lost its 1896 suit against a rival manufacturer that had reproduced pictures of its wares.30 According to Howell, “The Circuit Court of Appeals denied copyright to a price catalogue containing pictures of common household conveniences, such as bathtubs, washbowls, etc., the same being without artistic treatment or originality and of no value except as advertisements of the complainant’s wares.” Thus, Mott Iron Works had failed in its quest to protect a picture of one of its products. Reproducing and transforming yet another one its wares with Fountain may, then, have been utterly irresistible to Duchamp—especially given the analogy he had already created between the readymade and the snapshot.

The conclusion that Duchamp had a particular interest in Mott gains further support from the fact that Duchamp had, as we have seen, personally selected his readymade from the company’s showroom and that he deliberately emphasized his choice by using a lightly modified version of the manufacture’s name as the purported “author” of the work: the fictitious artist R(ichard) Mutt. As William Camfield has noted, Duchamp acknowledged in a late interview that “Mutt,” the name signed on Fountain, was inspired by “Mott [Iron] Works” (Camfield 22–24). As Duchamp told Otto Hahn in 1966, “Mott was too close, so I altered it to Mutt, after the daily cartoon ‘Mutt and Jeff’ which appeared at the time, and with which everyone was familiar” (Hahn 10). Duchamp’s comment that “Mott” as a pseudonym was “too close” to the name of the original manufacturer, is striking, suggesting that he was sensitive to the possibility of being collared for possible infringement if no creative transformation were evident. And by riffing off another prominently copyrighted cultural artifact, Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff comic strip, Duchamp further thumbed his nose at the apparent restrictions on such cultural productions, teasingly modifying and mocking them.

Duchamp’s choice to identify his pseudonym with a prominent comic strip character also reflects the underlying humor in Duchamp’s framing of the Richard Mutt case. Indeed, arguably, so too does the artist’s recourse to the law to frame the terms of his creative contribution, and thus “settle” the matter. The son of a notary, Duchamp would later remark: “I remember my father’s legal papers; the language was killingly funny; the lawyers in the United States use the same language” (Cabanne, 103).31

The presentation of Duchamp’s Fountain in a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz, particularly juxtaposed against Marsden Hartley’s The Warriors (see Fig. 6), the presence of which went unacknowledged at the time, adds yet another intriguing dimension to this intriguing “mash-up” avant la lettre. The 1909 Copyright Act had established that a photographer could not reproduce the artwork of another artist without his or her express permission. Here, in a composition likely directed by Duchamp, Stieglitz layers the offending Fountain with a painting by Hartley, creating a fascinating conundrum: to whom are we to attribute authorship of the resulting picture of the Fountain, the only known image of the original work? As Camfield has asked: “Is the photograph we see essentially the work of Stieglitz, or of Duchamp, or their collaboration?” (38).

Hartley’s own contribution, while perhaps not overseen by the painter, should also be considered. The 1909 Copyright Act had established that it was a copyright violation to photograph another artist’s work without his or her permission. Did Hartley grant his okay? Or might Duchamp have been familiar with Justice Joseph Story’s famous 1841 ruling in the infringement case Folsom v. Marsh? In this important decision, which still holds sway today, Story reasoned that to determine whether a copyrighted source had been used fairly, one should look “to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the scale, or diminish the profits, or supersede the objects of the original work” (Patterson and Lindberg).32 It might also be that Duchamp relished the further implicit reference in this act of photographic copying to the fact that Mott Iron Works itself had previously sued a competitor for the unauthorized reproduction of pictures of its wares, a case the manufacturer lost precisely because its own illustrations were not deemed creative enough.33
In its boldness, then, Stieglitz’s illustration emphasized that Duchamp’s own conceptual transformation of Mott’s urinal into the Fountain would clearly be worthy of its own independent a copyright protection.34  Perhaps anticipating a future round of disputes against the object, Duchamp, or his surrogates, reportedly turned the tables on the jurors who unjustly failed to recognize the  creative contributions of the work, going on the offensive, and claiming “Mr. Mutt now wants more than his dues returned. He wants damages.”35

The work’s originality was insisted upon by Louise Norton, who in turn celebrated the humor it revealed. “[T]here are those who anxiously ask,” she noted, "Is he serious or is he joking?’ Perhaps he is both! Is it not possible?...[T]here is among us to-day a spirit of ‘blague’ arising out of the artist’s bitter vision of an over-institutionalized world of stagnant statistics and antique axioms” (Norton 6). In suggesting that humor might simultaneously serve a serious purpose, Norton’s prescient turn of phrase: “Perhaps he is both! Is it not possible!” might reveal a double-entre in its own right born of her close friendship with Duchamp.  

Indeed, Norton, who generously provided her own address and telephone exchange as surrogates for those of the fictive Richard Mutt, may have been aware of Duchamp’s report to his sister Suzanne that “a female friend of mine, using a male pseudonym, Richard Mutt, submitted a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; it was not at all indecent.”36 And she may have been aware that, as was so typical of Duchamp’s pronouncements, it could not be accepted at face level, but carried other nuanced layers of meaning. As art historians William Camfield and Michael Taylor have argued, rather than simply implicating Norton, it seems likely that Duchamp’s implicit reference to gender inversion—in a woman passing herself off as a man—may (also) have been an allusion to the nascent development of his own female alter ego: Rrose Sélavy (Fig. 8).

Indeed, an even more prominent male/female reversal would become the subject of one of his next, and best known, gestures of cultural appropriation and transformation: his addition in 1919 of a moustache and goatee to a reproduction of da Vinci's Mona Lisa (Fig. 9), together with the caption “L.H.O.O.Q.”

Duchamp would later report, “The curious thing about that moustache and goatee is that when you look at it the Mona Lisa becomes a man. It is not a woman disguised as a man; it is a real man, and that was my discovery, without realizing it at the time."37  The provocative bilingual pun urged English speakers to “Look” at what Duchamp had done, while simultaneously announcing to French speakers, who might enunciate the letters one-by-one, L-H-O-O-Q, that the artist’s subject had a hot ass.38] The crude word play might arguably be even funnier, or even more searing, if the subject were understood to be a man in drag. Once again, through the addition of a clever inscription, Duchamp undoubtedly transferred a new thought to a readymade object.

As if to further emphasize the creative originality of his gesture as a new form of art-making, Duchamp would promptly enlist his female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, whose own punning name announced, among other things, that “Eros is life,” with evidence of her own creative credentials. Thus the first explicit evidence of the existence of Rrose Sélavy was through the exhibition in 1920 of an artwork, resembling a readymade (Fig. 10) emblazoned with the title Fresh Widow and the phrase: “Copyright Rose Sélavy.”

In copyrighting the work in the name of Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp may have playfully offered a deliberate brain-teaser for legal specialists to debate: just who is the authentic artist?  As though warding off any misperception about his reliance on legal codes, Duchamp would later clarify: “It’s a very nice word, law, but it has no deep validity. That’s what I think. It’s just a habit” (Tomkins, Interviews 85).

Duchamp’s deep resistance to dogmatic systems of all kinds extended to his resistance to marketing his readymades (Tomkins, Interviews 26). Thus, if views of Fountain appear in photographs of the era, the original artwork itself never changed hands in a sale, and is now lost. Versions of the piece that now exist were created subsequently, not primarily with a view to generating income, as much to ensure the piece might eventually be enshrined in a history of art. Explaining his reluctance to mass produce the readymade, Duchamp pointed to the temptation to undermine its very claim to disrupt aesthetic and social codes, by replacing them with new dogmas: “The danger,” he explained late in life, “would be to direct it toward a taste. Tasty affairs. You could be taken in by the readymade idea to become an artist again” (Tomkins, Interviews 55).

Deliberately positioning himself outside the commercial arena, deafening to himself the siren call to return to traditional artistic activity through the trap of producing objects for a market, Duchamp left the United States, asserting that he had abandoned art-making. But if Duchamp continued to resist identification as an “artist,” he did not abandon his interest in remaining a player, as reflected with the poster—a spoof, appropriately enough—announcing his departure (Fig. 11).

Featuring himself as a gambler on the lam in his Wanted: $2,000 Reward (Fig. 11), Duchamp simultaneously enlisted Alfred Stieglitz to make portraits to match. Taking the joke a step further a year later, Duchamp fashioned his Monte Carlo Bond (Fig. 12). Jointly endorsed by himself and Rrose Sélavy, the document offered shares to speculators willing to bet on his ability to beat the house at Monte Carlo in roulette.

The elaborate metaphor, Duchamp would later reveal, amounted to taking a gamble on his ability to secure a lasting reputation. The readymade, it would seem, rather than a commodity, represented, as Duchamp would have it, “a little game between the onlooker and the artist. Like roulette” (Tomkins, Interviews 56).

Nearly thirty years later, in August 1952, Duchamp would write to his brother-in-law Jean Crotti, whose spirits were sagging due to a lack of recognition: “Artists throughout the ages are like Monte Carlo gamblers and the blind lottery pulls some of them through and ruins others.”39 With his puns and wry humor, Duchamp, who would cast a self-portrait late in life picturing himself With My Tongue in My Cheek, transformed the history of western art not through a sleight of hand, but rather through a turn of mind.  Extracting creative expression from the material medium that had defined it for centuries through physical media such as paint, ink, and marble, Duchamp recast artistic practice as an intellectual undertaking, one quite deliberately characterized by a light touch.

Garnering a smile through his antics, Duchamp encouraged his viewers to laugh along with him and, in so doing, transformed them into collaborators, completing the creative act he put into play with each knowing chuckle. As Duchamp recognized, his most important audience was not his own peers or even his own contemporaries, but the generations who would ensure the ongoing significance of his gesture. As he told James Johnson Sweeney late in his career, “You should wait for fifty years or a hundred years for your true public. That is the only public that interests me.”40 Appropriately, then, Fountain’s final chapter did not unfold in 1917. Indeed, the ongoing reverberations of Duchamp’s Fountain are still emphatically with us today, as reflected in the Guggenheim Museum’s decision, announced in January 2018, to offer the White House Maurizio Cattelan’s America (Fig. 13), a golden toilet, in place of the Van Gogh it had requested.41 

Far from a “one-liner,” Fountain, like so many other of Duchamp’s artistic projects and puzzles, reveals itself as a complex ruse, the humor and deep epistemological provocations of which continue to animate new generations of viewers, who continue to make it their own, as exemplified not only through exhibitions and scholarship, but from works of art ranging from Cattelan’s America to Sherrie Levine’s Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), Madonna (1991) to Ai Weiwei’s Letgo (2015). How might Duchamp have responded to the many interpretations his work has spawned? His 1967 remark by the artist to Pierre Cabanne on the occasion of his first retrospective, held at the Tate, offers some insight in its nod to the power of humor: “One accepts everything, while laughing just the same. You accept to please other people, more than yourself. It’s sort of politeness, until the day when it becomes a very important tribute. If it’s sincere, that is” (Cabanne 91).

1 A manifest of the SS Serpa Pinto’s June 1942 passengers can be found here. I thank Jim Housefield for bringing this to my attention. The important role of the SS Serpa Pinto in ferrying refugees from Europe during World War II, particularly those who were Jewish, is addressed by the JDC Archives, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database.
2 See the following correspondence in the Mary E. Dreier papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. From Box 7: Augusta Mayerson to Mary Dreier, March 18, 1942. In Box 7 see also Alfred Barr to Katherine S. Dreier, February 27, 1942, a letter that documents Barr’s efforts on Duchamp’s behalf, including a copy of Barr’s letter to Walter Arensberg, February 10, 1942; and a summary of the “Duchamp Case,” from October 15, 1940 – January 12, 1942. From Box 19 see: letter to Mary [?] from Mary Dreier, July 28, 1941, requesting assistance getting through to the State Department on Duchamp’s behalf; Mary E. Dreier to Augusta Mayerson, August 6, 1941, enclosing a copy of Katherine Dreier to Henri Haye, French Ambassador to the United States, July 20, 1941; and Katherine Dreier to Marcel Duchamp, July 20, 1941, inviting him to establish two museums, one in Los Angeles and one in West Redding, Connecticut.
3 The literature touching on Duchamp’s Fountain is voluminous. Camfield remains the most detailed study. Taylor provides a compelling recent discussion of Duchamp’s goals for Fountain and its reception in “Blind Man’s Bluff.”
4 Theodore Roosevelt went so far as to publish a response to the Armory show, including remarks on “the picture which for some reason is called ‘A naked man going down stairs’” (Roosevelt).
5 On the culture of the “humbug,” and Duchamp’s reception in the United States, see Leja (227–37).

6 Though unsigned, Bessie Breuer is the author of this essay, as revealed by her memoirs (Tomkins, Biography 153); see also McManus and Goodyear (164; 197, n. 7).

7 As Duchamp pointed out to Calvin Tomkins, although he began the practice of appropriating manufactured objects as artworks in 1913 with his Bicycle Wheel, “[t]hey became readymades two years later by the fact that I discovered the word in 1915” (Tomkins, Interviews 73).
8 In his 1961 presentation, “A Propos of ‘Readymades," Duchamp noted that these objects were selected with “a total absence of good or bad taste” (Duchamp, Writings 141). Michael Taylor offers a compelling discussion of the readymades’ emphatic break with notions of “taste” in “Blind Man’s Bluff” (25–27).
9 As Naumann points out, the bottle rack, unbeknownst to Duchamp at the time, had already been discarded (“Affectueusement, Marcel” 18, n. 10). However, the readymade would later take its place, through replicas, in the artist’s oeuvre (Schwarz, no. 306, 615–17.).
10 The note is dated January 1916, though the precise date is not provided (Duchamp, Writings 75).
11 Michael Taylor notes that Duchamp later reported that Traveler’s Folding Item (1916) was one of the works; the other is unknown (Taylor, “Blind Man’s Bluff” 27; 63, n. 8); see also Tomkins (Biography 162).
12 Although Carol Troyen identifies the male figure above Duchamp as Demuth (207), the absence of the mustache, and photographic comparisons with Walter Arensberg (and his wife Louise) suggest that this figure is Arensberg, a conclusion further supported, as discussed at length in his essay, by the presence of other members of the Arensberg circle in the image.
13 Michael Taylor points out the close proximity of Duchamp and Arensberg’s living quarters (Taylor, “Blind Man’s Bluff” 23); Nesbit and Sawelson-Gorse elegantly document the collaborative discussions in which Arensberg and Duchamp were engaged during the time of Duchamp’s development of the readymade in New York (see 134–57).
14 Beatrice Wood is not precise in her account, but suggests that Fountain arrived “two days before the exhibition,” which opened on April 9 (Camfield 25).
15 William Camfield, Marcel Duchamp: Fountain (26).
16 Taylor offers a detailed description of the photograph, including a persuasive argument concerning how Stieglitz composed the image. As Taylor points out, Stieglitz’s image exists in at least two different prints, cropped slightly differently (Taylor, 41–47; 51–57).
17 Correspondence from Stieglitz to Georgia O’Keeffe comparing the work to a Buddha is quoted by Taylor (“Blind Man’s Bluff” 53–55); see also Norton (5–6); for an overview of the work’s association with the Buddha, see Camfield (40, n. 49).
18 Carl van Vechten to Gertrude Stein, undated letter [April 1917], quoted by Camfield (34–35).
19 The emphasis on the interval of three days gives additional interest to Duchamp’s comment, made in the course of the same interview, and cited above, that the distressed jurors who first saw Fountain “couldn’t sleep for three days” (Taylor 31).
20 A wonderful account of the creation of the piece is provided by Nesbit and Sawelson-Gorse, who note, “Sophie was Sophie Treadwell, another of the regulars at Walter and Louise [Arensberg]’s, a journalist and a playwright” (163).
21 Marcel Duchamp, Letter to Jean Crotti and Suzanne Duchamp Crotti, January 31, 1954, quoted in Naumann and Hector Obalk (337).
22 Duchamp, perhaps with a deliberate dark humor, made his remark in 1964, during the height of the Cold War, at a time the Soviet Union had officially suppressed religious worship.
23 Franklin makes note of the Hartley’s emphasis on the anus and its relationship to homosexual desire (34).
24 Bellows’s own familiarity with the homoerotic culture associated with public baths is evident in his 1917 lithograph, The Shower-Bath. See Katz and Ward (10–13; 82–83).
25 Though the authorship of the essay is not certain, the participation of Roché and Wood with Duchamp, given their joint editorship of The Blind Man, seems likely; regarding other candidates see Camfield (37).
26 In 1918, Walter Arensberg learned of Louise’s affair with Roché, a discovery that helped propel their move from New York to Los Angeles (Watson 327).
27 As noted above, Carol Troyen mistakenly claims Demuth included himself, erroneously identifying Walter Arensberg as Demuth (207). In 1923, Demuth would observe that Duchamp represented “his strongest influence in recent years,” and reported to Alfred Stieglitz, “Marcel is stronger than any of us...and that’s writing a lot!”  (Tancock 163).
28 Norton received “Tiré à quatre epingles,” translating into “dressed to the nines.” This may have referred to her own fashionable dress. On the translation and the relationship of this work on others on which Duchamp was engaged at the time, see Nesbit and Sawelson-Gorse (147).
29 Duchamp was deeply concerned with how his activities would be viewed by future generations (Goodyear 80–99; Tomkins, Interviews especially 30–31, 56–59).
30 Mott Iron Works v. Clow, 1896.
31 Marcel Duchamp, in Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (103).
32 This important decision is indeed now largely enshrined in the rational for the defense of fair use in the 1976 Copyright Act, still in force today.
33 I thank Peter Jaszi for bringing this infringement case to my attention.
34 This would be consistent with the copyright protection earned by Napoleon Sarony’s arrangement of Oscar Wilde’s body and dress earned in the eyes of the court (Decherney 112).
35 Franklin Clarkin, “Two Miles of Funny Pictures,” Boston Evening Transcript, April 25, 1917 (qtd. in Camfield 27).
36 Marcel Duchamp to Suzanne Duchamp, April 11 1917 (qtd. in Naumann and Obalk 47).
37 Duchamp, radio interview with Herbert Crehan, broadcast by WBAI, New York, in 1961 (qtd. in Schwarz 670).
38 The pun is arguably even more provocative if the subject is understood to be a man in drag.
39 Marcel Duchamp, Letter to Jean Crotti, 17 August 1952, Jean Crotti Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (translated by  Naumann and Obalk 321).
40 Marcel Duchamp, in conversation with James Johnson Sweeney, “A Conversation with Marcel Duchamp,” televised interview for NBC conducted in 1955 and aired in Jan. 1956 (Duchamp, Writings 133).
41 Philip Kennicott, “An art critic explains what the Guggenheim was really saying when it offered Trump a golden toilet,” The Washington Post, January 26, 2018. For a detailed discussion of other recent tributes to Fountain see Naumann and Bailey.

Works Cited

“The Armory Puzzle.” American Art News, March 8, 1913, p. 4. Rpt. in Leja, p. 222.

“Art Descending to America.” Time, September 7, 1942, pp. 100–102. 

 [Breuer, Bessie]. “The Nude-Descending a Staircase Man Surveys Us.” New York Tribune, September 12, 1915. Yale Collection of American Literature. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Connecticut. Rpt. in McManus and Goodyear, Inventing, p. 16.

Cabanne, Pierre. Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp. Translated by Ron Padgett, Viking, 1971.

Camfield, William. Marcel Duchamp: Fountain. The Menil Collection and Houston Fine Art Press, 1989.

Catalogue of the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. Society of Independent Artists, 1917, n.p. 

D’Harnoncourt, Anne, and Kynaston McShine, editors. Marcel Duchamp. Prestel-Verlag, 1989.

Decherney, Peter. “Copyright Dupes: Piracy and New Media in Edison v. Lubin (1903)." Film History, vol. 19, no. 2, Film and Copyright, 2007, pp. 109–24.

Demuth, Charles. “For Richard Mutt.” The Blind Man, no. 2, May 1917, p. 6.

Duchamp, Marcel. “A Complete Reversal of Art Opinions by Marcel Duchamp, Iconoclast.” Arts and Decoration, September 1915, pp. 427–28, 442.

---. “The Creative Act.” Marcel Duchamp, by Robert Lebel. Translated by George Heard Hamilton, Trianon Press, 1959.

---. Letter to Jean Crotti, 17 August 1952, Jean Crotti Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Translated in Naumann and Obalk, 321.

---. The Writings of Marcel Duchamp. Edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson, DaCapo, 1973.

Duchamp, Marcel, Henri Pierre Roché, and Beatrice Wood. “The Richard Mutt Case.” The Blind Man, no. 2, May 1917, p. 5.

Franklin, Paul. “Object Choice: Marcel Duchamp's Fountain and the Art of Queer Art History.” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 23, no. 1, 2000.

“French Artists Spur on an American Art.” New York Tribune, October 24, 1915, sec. 4, pp. 2–3. Rpt. in Kuenzli, p. 133.

Goodyear, Anne Collins. “Constructing a ‘Made-Up History’: Self-Portraiture and the Legacy of Marcel Duchamp.” Inventing Marcel Duchamp, edited by Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus, MIT Press, with the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2009.

Hahn, Otto. “Passport No. G255300 [Interview with Marcel Duchamp]." Art and Artists, vol. 1, no. 4, July 1966, pp. 7–11.

“His Art Too Crude for Independents.” The New York Herald, April 11, 1917, p. 6. Rpt. in Naumann and Bailey, p. 3.

Howell, Herbert A. “The Scope of the Law of Copyright.” Virginia Law Review, vol. 4, no. 5, February 1917, pp. 385–90.

Katz, Jonathan D. and David Ward. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Smithsonian Books, 2010.

Kennicott, Philip. “An art critic explains what the Guggenheim was really saying when it offered Trump a golden toilet.” The Washington Post, January 26, 2018.
Kuenzli, Rudolf E. New York Dada. Willis Locker and Owens, 1986.

Kuh, Katharine. “Marcel Duchamp [Interview].” The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, edited by Katherine Kuh, Harper and Row, 1962, pp. 81–93.

Leja, Michael. Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp. U of California P, 2004.

McManus, James W. and Anne Collins Goodyear. “Sur Mesure: On Jean Crotti’s Idea of Marcel Duchamp.” aka Marcel Duchamp: Meditations on the Identities of an Artist, edited by Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus, Smithsonian Institution, 2014.

Mott Iron Works v. Clow, 1896.

Naumann, Francis M. “Affectueusement, Marcel: Ten Letters from Marcel Duchamp to Suzanne Duchamp and Jean Crotti,” Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 22, November 1982, pp. 2–19.

---. “Fountain’s Furtive Fate or Farfetched Fiction?” Marcel Duchamp: Fountain: An Homage, edited by Francis M. Naumann and Bradley Bailey, Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, 2017. 

---. New York Dada, 1915-23. Harry N. Abrams, 1994.

Naumann, Francis M., and Bradley Bailey. Fountain: An Homage. Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, 2017.

Naumann, Francis M., and Hector Obalk. Affectionately Marcel: The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, translated by Jill Taylor, Ludion Press, 2000.

Nesbitt, Molly, and Naomi Sawelson-Gorse. “Concept of Nothing: New Notes by Marcel Duchamp and Walter Arensberg." The Duchamp Effect,  edited by Martha Buskirk and Mignon Nixon, MIT Press, 1996.

Norton, Louise. “The Buddha of the Bathroom.” The Blind Man, no. 2, May 1917, pp. 5–6.

Patterson, L. Ray, and Stanley W. Lindberg. The Nature of Copyright: A Law of Users’ Rights. U of Georgia P, 1991.

Roberts, Francis. “Interview with Marcel Duchamp: ‘I Propose to Strain the Laws of Physics.’” Art News, vol.  67, no. 8, December 1968, p. 62.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition.” Outlook, 103, 29 March 1913, pp. 718–20. Rpt. in The Call of the Wild (1900–1916). Edited by Roderick Nash, George Braziller, 1970.

“The Rude Descending a Staircase.” The New York Evening Sun, March 20, 1913. Rpt. in D’Harnoncourt and McShine, p. 14.

Schwarz, Arturo. The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp.  Vol. 2, 3rd ed, Delano Greenidge Editions, 1997.

Sweeney, James J. “Marcel Duchamp [Interview].” Special issue "Eleven Europeans in America." The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, vol. 13, no. 4/5, 1946, pp. 19–21, 37.

Tancock, John. “The Influence of Marcel Duchamp.” Marcel Duchamp, edited by Anne d’Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine. Prestel-Verlag, 1989.

Taylor, Michael R. “Blind Man’s Bluff: Duchamp, Stieglitz, and the Fountain Scandal Revisited.” Marcel Duchamp: The Great Hidden Inspirer, Poesis IV, Staatliches Museum, Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH, 2017, pp. 20–69.

---. “New York,” in Dada, edited by Leah Dickerman, National Gallery of Art, 2005.

Tomkins, Calvin. Duchamp: A Biography. Henry Holt and Co., 1996

---. Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews. Badlands Unlimited, 2013.

Troyen, Carol. “The Purple Pup.” Awash in Color: Homer, Sargent, and the Great American Watercolor, edited by Sue Welsh Reed and Carol Troyen. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, with Bullfinch Press, Little, Brown, and Company, 1993, pp. 205–207.

Viau, Guy, and Marcel Duchamp. “To Change Names, Simply.” Interview for Canadian Radio Television, July 17, 1960, trans. Sarah Skinner Kilborne, in “Interviews,” Tout-Fait, vol. 2, issue 4, Jan. 2002. 

Watson, Steven. Strange Bedfellows: The First American Avant-Garde. Abbeville Press, 1991.

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