How Duchamp Revolutionized Art With a Urinal

Beatriz Freitas
4 min readAug 14, 2020

And quite literally pissed on everything.

The Fountain might be one of the most iconic pieces in history because of its bold and provoking statement, which has us question what Art is since 1917. Created by Duchamp, the father of Dadaism, this piece was initially submitted to the Society of Independent Artists in New York. It was rejected by the board members, who thought his project what an offensive joke to Art. A few years later, this ready-made work was highly praised socially, becoming a revolutionary masterpiece that established new grounds for modern art.

Even though this is an incredible piece of work, maybe the most impressive part is the thought process behind the creation. From the mere idea of buying a sanitarian utensil to transforming it into an upside-down fountain, every step gives us insight into Marcel Duchamp’s genius mindset.

Revolution: breaking with conventional standards

Personally, the definition of art is the creation of an impression, to evoke a sensation. If that is happiness, anger, calmness, or frustration, it depends on the spectator. However, this definition was not always accepted socially and artistically, once Art is predominantly held to a specif standard according to its historical period.

Maybe one of the most intriguing traits of Duchamp was his disregard for rules and social conventions, being a true counter-culture artist. He consistently denied anything with real value, whether it was material — like money — or sentimental — like marriage. This might be perhaps the reason why Duchamp usually created ready-made art from objects that had little to no esthetics, historical, or social value.

If not only to shock us, Duchamp also manages to express his point of view, which opened doors for the modern abstract artists to express themselves without having to follow classical techniques or predetermined themes for their work. He found the box we tried to fit Art in and blew it, stating once again that Art didn’t have to be this static and limited concept.

Deconstruction: changing a urinal into a fountain

However, in order to create a powerful statement, Duchamp couldn’t present a urinal on its own, at least not before it wasn’t a urinal anymore. This is the stage where matter and meaning are separated. He had in his hands a urinal made of…

Beatriz Freitas

Brazilian. Fourth-year medical student. Love arts and social science.