Protester tries to chip away at the reputation of Duchamp's urinal

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A 77-year-old Frenchman has been arrested for taking a hammer to one of the most celebrated pieces of 20th-century art ­ a factory-manufactured porcelain urinal first "found" and displayed by the surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp in 1917.

It was the artist Pierre Pinoncelli's second attack on the work, right, entitled Fountain and valued at more than £2m. The first happened in 1993 when he urinated into it while it was on displayin Nîmes, southern France. In his latest assault, at a Dada exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Pinoncelli slightly chipped the urinal with a small hammer. The damaged artwork ­ a replica of the 1917 original which was lost ­ was later removed from the exhibit for repair.

Pinoncelli, who comes from Provence, was arrested and held in custody by police for 24 hours. He now faces a possible charge of vandalism and is due to appear in court in Paris on 24 January.

On both occasions, Pinoncelli claimed to police he was carrying out a piece of performance art, which might have pleased Ducahamp and his fellow artists of Dada, an early 20th-century avant-garde movement.

He has been carrying out similar happenings de rue since the early 1960s, according to The New York Times. In 1969, he used a water pistol to spray red paint on France's culture minister Andre Malraux, and six years later he held up a bank in Nice with a fake pistol to protest the city's decision to twin itself with Cape Town while South Africa was still under apartheid. That same year, he paraded outside the city's courthouse, covered in large stars, in what he called his homage to deported Jews.

For many, however, his pièce de resistance occurred at a festival of performing arts in the Colombian city of Cali in 2002. In protest against the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician, by leftist guerillas, Pinoncelli chopped off half of his left hand's little finger. He then used the blood to write the guerrilla group's initials ­ Farc ­ on a white wall.

Duchamp (1887-1968) was famously opposed to "museum" art and the permanent glorification of paintings and artefacts. He invented a school of art based on "finding" objects in everyday life.

In 2004, Duchamp's urinal was voted by 500 art experts worldwide as the most influential piece of art of the 20th century.

When it was offered to the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917, it was rejected for being neither original nor art.

Duchamp has influenced many contemporary artists, including Tracey Emin, whose work My Bed was inspired by the French artist.