Marcel Duchamp

gigatos | March 24, 2022


Marcel Duchamp (AFI maʀsɛl dyˈʃɑ̃) (Blainville-Crevon, July 28, 1887-Neuilly-sur-Seine, October 2, 1968) was a French artist and chess player.

Especially known for his artistic activity, his work exerted a strong influence on the evolution of Dadaism. Like the aforementioned movement, he abhorred the symbolic sedimentation in artistic works as a consequence of the passage of time and exalted the value of the conjunctural, the fleeting and the contemporary. Duchamp is one of the main supporters of artistic creation as the result of a pure exercise of the will, with no strict need for training, preparation or talent.

Since the 1960s he has been considered by many art historians and critics as the most important artist of the 20th century. André Breton called him “the most intelligent man of the century”. Through inventions such as the ready-mades, his work and artistic attitude continue to influence considerably the different currents of contemporary art.

Duchamp, who does not belong to any precise artistic current, has a unique style. Breaking the artistic and aesthetic codes then in force, he is considered the precursor of some of the most radical aspects of the evolution of art since 1945.

He was born on July 28, 1887 in Blainville-Crevon, a small French village where his father, Eugène Duchamp, was a notary and mayor. He was the third of six siblings. His two older brothers, who later adopted the names Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, decided to devote themselves to art, perhaps due to the influence of their maternal grandfather, who after earning a considerable fortune as a shipping agent had retired to devote himself to his main hobbies, engraving and painting, even exhibiting some works at the Universal Exposition in Paris (1878).

Like his older brothers, to whom he was very close, Marcel attended drawing classes at the lycée. His brother Gaston (Jacques Villon) had achieved a certain fame as a poster painter in Paris, at a time when Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alfons Mucha were prominent, and Marcel, who admired his brother, tried to imitate his style in his first drawings. In the summer of 1902, at the age of fourteen, he painted his first oil paintings, with an impressionist influence, showing landscapes of Blainville. He would also make several drawings with different media (watercolor, gouache, monotype, pencil) with a single subject: his sister Suzanne, two years his junior, who would also devote herself to painting. In 1904 he left home to move to the Parisian district of Montmartre, where he lived with his brother Gaston. Marcel, like his brothers, had a monthly allowance that his father gave him as an advance on his inheritance.

Although his early paintings showed talent, he produced few works in comparison to other artists. This was a time of hesitation and experimentation with various tendencies.

Cubist stage

It was a time of artistic revolutions: the collage of Picasso and Braque, Futurism, the works of Alfred Jarry, the poetry of Apollinaire and the abstract art of Vasily Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay and Piet Mondrian opened up modern art. From 1911 Duchamp began to innovate more seriously. According to Tomkins, the painting that marks the beginning of this stage is Sonata. In the painting, inspired by the cubism of his brother Jacques Villon, his three sisters appear playing a piece of music and his mother, an outsider. After experimenting with “a fovism that was not based solely on distortion” in The Thicket, he painted Yvonne and Magdaleine in pieces and Portrait (Dulcinea), in which he plays with the themes of movement and transition, major themes in Duchamp”s work. At this time he had a relationship with Jeanne Serre, according to Gough-Cooper and Caumont the model for The Thicket, with whom he had a daughter, although Duchamp would not know this until much later.At that time he was hunted by Cubism on his visits to the Galerie Kahnweiler, where there were canvases by Picasso and Braque. Since both Picasso and Braque refused to justify Cubism with theories or manifestos, the group of new Cubists that included the Duchamp brothers-with whom neither Picasso nor Braque were associated-understood its intellectual foundation through the explanations of Jean Metzinger. This group met at Villon”s house in Puteaux on Sunday afternoons, hence the name Puteaux group. Among other topics, the group”s discussions focused on two issues of importance to Duchamp: the fourth dimension and art interpreted by the mind instead of the retina (retinal art). As a result of these new ideas, in 1911 he undertook the task of representing the mental activity of a game of chess, an effort that resulted in Portrait of Chess Players. Although his technique does not stand out from other cubist works, it does emphasize the mental activity to the detriment of the “retinal” image.

Beginning with Portrait of Chess Players, Duchamp”s first innovative painting, each work was different from the last. He never stopped to explore the possibilities opened up by a new work, but simply moved on to something else. Around this time he stopped frequenting his brothers so much and began to be in contact only with a group of friends, especially Picabia. Then he became interested in the pictorial embodiment of the idea of movement. The first attempt in this line is Sad Young Man on a Train, which Duchamp considered a sketch. In addition to the new line it opens, this work is notable for being the first time Duchamp played with words in his work, as he chose sad because of its alliteration with train. Duchamp”s next work continued this path. It is Nude Descending a Staircase, of which he painted two versions.

Nude, which he began in December 1911, surprised first of all by its title, which he painted on the canvas itself. The nude was an artistic theme with already established fixed rules, which certainly did not include figures descending stairs. Duchamp showed the idea of movement through successive superimposed images, similar to those of stroboscopic photography. Both the sensation of movement and the nude are not in the viewer”s retina, but in his brain. It combines elements of Cubism and Futurism, a movement that attacked the Cubism of the Puteaux group. The painting was to be exhibited at the cubist exhibition of the Salon des Indépendants, but Albert Gleizes asked his brothers to tell him to voluntarily withdraw the painting, or to change the title, which they found caricatural, to which they agreed. Regarding this incident, Duchamp would later recall:

(…) I did not reply. I said very well, very well, I took a cab to the exhibition, I took my painting back and I took it with me. It was a real turning point in my life. I realized that, after that, I would never be too interested in groups again.

However, if Nude Descending a Staircase encouraged Duchamp to follow his own path without ascribing to theories or groups, it was another painting painted that same year that would mark the path that would end years later in the realization of The Great Glass (La marièe mise à nu pair ses célibataires): Coffee Grinder, a small painting for his brother”s kitchen. According to Duchamp himself, he painted a description of the mechanism, structured in two parts, ideas also present in the glass, although at the time he was not aware of what it entailed.

Travel to Munich and back to Paris

In those years, according to Tomkins, he was influenced by Jules Laforgue and Raymond Roussel. He was attracted to the former”s cynical humor, the detachment of his characters and his verbal games. From the latter, his work based on puns, transliterations and rhetoric. As Roussel himself later revealed, he was attracted by the “madness of the unexpected” and the discovery of a work based solely on the author”s imagination, since for Roussel the works should contain “nothing except combinations of totally imaginary objects. Duchamp went with Francis Picabia to the performance of Impressions of Africa, which made a strong impression on him. A week later he set off alone for Munich. There he made no attempt to get to know Kandinsky, and in fact the question of pure abstraction was quite indifferent to him, but devoted himself to work. From this period are the first sketches of the large glass and appears the theme of the virgins and their transition to bride, a theme that would work for a long time. He began with drawings of the Virgin, then continued with the painting The transition from virgin to bride and culminated with Bride. According to some critics, such as Jerrold Seigel, the paintings are not about sexual initiation, but about the transition to the previous state of expectant innocence. In the last two appear a contraption that will also appear in the Great Glass and in fact, according to Duchamp himself, Bride was nothing more than a rehearsal for a more important work. At this time he was in love with Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, Picabia”s wife. After two months of work he visited Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, Dresden and Berlin and their museums before returning to Paris. On the return trip he wrote two pages of retrúecanos, fantasies and puns describing a picture he would never paint. This text is considered a precedent for the notes he would later include in his Green Box and the language of the Great Glass. As he would later declare, at this time he had abandoned cubism and the pictorial representation of the movement, and had had enough of painting. He embarked on the creation of a different, large-scale work, for which he sought a job as a librarian that would occupy him a few hours.

However, the Section d”Or exhibition, the most important Cubist exhibition held before the war, completely overturned his plans. Six works by Duchamp were exhibited, including Nude Descending a Staircase. NO. 2. The Munich paintings were not exhibited, as he considered them mere studies. His work had little impact in general, but he received praise from Guillaume Apollinaire, who probably paid attention to him because of his mutual friendship with Picabia, and, more importantly, he attracted the keen interest of Arthur B. Davies, Walter Pach and Walt Kuhn, who were planning to organize the International Exhibition of Modern Art that would go down in history as the Armory Show.He then went on to travel around the world.

The Armory Show brought American art into contact with the European avant-garde. Among the paintings, sculptures and decorative works on display, Duchamp”s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 provoked a great reaction. There were lines of thirty and forty minutes to see the painting and the American Art News offered ten dollars to the one who gave the best explanation of the painting. Although modern art received derision in the press, it attracted a not-too-numerous group of collectors. The three Duchamp brothers did very well: Raymond sold three of four sculptures exhibited, Jacques Villon sold his nine paintings, and Marcel sold his four canvases for a total of $972.

Duchamp spent two years making studies for the Great Glass. The change in his work was total. Although before his trip to Munich he had shown his disdain for retinal art, his art was still circumscribed in the tradition of Western art, both in materials, as he always painted in oil on canvas, and in concepts. After the trip, we can see how he abandoned the principle of creative sensibility and replaced it with mechanical drawing, writing, irony and the use of chance. According to Tomkins, it is no coincidence that this change coincided with Duchamp”s move to Neuilly, where he lived away from the artistic circle of Montmartre. There he devoted himself to working on the preliminaries of his new work. He made preparatory drawings and wrote notes. At some point it occurred to him that he would do the work on glass. In this way he could avoid oxidation of the colors and he could also leave areas unpainted, eliminating the need to fill the entire support. He had decided that in his work he would show a psychological movement, a transit, as he had already done in The Transit from the Virgin to the Bride. At this time he studied Renaissance perspective in detail. He made a perspective study of the lower panel (la machine célibataire or the unmarried machine). He also painted a coffee grinder in perspective (Chocolate Grinder (No. 1)). This work in oil on canvas is a study of the central element of the lower panel. It is painted in a very different style from his previous works, as he painted it with all the precision of which he was capable. By resorting to technical drawing, Duchamp was attempting to eliminate the artist”s personal sensibility by mechanizing the stroke. He later considered that work to be the true beginning of the Great Glass. In his preparatory notes he plays with irony and alters the laws of physics and chemistry. Thus, he speaks of the oscillation of density, the inversion of friction and sexuality as a two-stroke engine in a flirtation with pataphysics. Duchamp said that he sought to approach science, but not for the love of it, but to “discredit it slightly, in a slight, unimportant way.” Duchamp”s great interest in the fourth dimension and non-Euclidean geometry is also apparent. Of the Puteaux group Duchamp was the only one who worked conscientiously to understand these subjects. In fact, Gertrude Stein says of Duchamp after meeting him that “he looks like a young Englishman and talks vehemently about the fourth dimension.”

After eliminating manufacturing talent by resorting to technical drawing, Duchamp attacked conscious intention by resorting to chance. It occurred to him to cut three meter-long threads and drop them on three canvases. He traced the resulting lines and reproduced each one three times on a canvas. He titled the result Network of Darns. Although other artists had used chance to escape their constraints, Duchamp employed it in a new way, believing that since everyone”s luck is different, the result of his chance was an expression of his subconscious. Sometime in 1913, while exploring this avenue, he created what he retrospectively considered the first ready-made: a bicycle front wheel placed upside down on a four-legged stool (Bicycle Wheel on a Stool). Duchamp said it had come about as an amusement, as he found it pleasant to watch the spokes disappear as the wheel turned. He later bought a bottle holder, a common item in French homes at the time, not intending to use it to fill with bottles, but as a ready-made sculpture. In a note from 1913, Duchamp notes the question “Can one make works that are not art?”.

He was also looking for the material with which to make the glass. After a few months in which he was trying to corrode the glass with hydrofluoric acid, he abandoned the idea because it was too cumbersome and dangerous, because the chemical reaction emitted toxic gases. Then it occurred to him to use wire thread that would stick to the glass with drops of varnish. The material was easy to find, malleable and very convenient. With wire on glass he created Trineo. Although France entered World War I on August 3, 1914, and his two brothers were called up for the army shortly thereafter, the general opinion in France was that the war would last less than half a year. In these circumstances, Duchamp continued to work on his studies for the Great Glass. The next thing he tackled was another work in wire on glass, the Nine Male Molds, three-dimensional vessels representing bachelors. Although there were originally eight of them, he eventually added a ninth, the stationmaster. For Duchamp the number three represented the crowd. Three and multiples of three appear frequently in his work. For the Draught Pistons at the top of the glass Duchamp again resorted to luck: he laid a square gauze in front of a window and photographed it three times as the wind gently shook it. The resulting silhouettes would form the Pistons.

Transfer to New York

Walter Pach returned to Paris in search of works to organize more exhibitions in New York on the European avant-garde. As a result of this visit, Duchamp and Pach became friends. Many of the artists based in the French capital had been drafted into the army. Duchamp was exempted from the army when a rheumatic heart murmur was detected. Although he did not exhibit his skeptical attitude towards the war and impervious to patriotism, he had to put up with the reproaches of his sister-in-law and of strangers who rebuked him in the street for not being at the front. Thus, he wrote to Pach on April 2, 1915 that he was “totally determined” to leave France, and in a later letter he clarified “I am not going to New York, I am leaving Paris, which is very different”. On June 15 he sailed on the Rochambeau for New York.

Once in New York, he initially stayed at the home of the Arensberg couple. Walter Arensberg, the son of a steel magnate, had been greatly impressed by the Armory Show. By the time Duchamp arrived at their apartment, Arensberg treasured works by Brancusi, Picasso, Braque, Matisse and the Puteaux Cubists. He earned a living and learned English by giving French lessons to friends of Pach and Arensberg, including John Quinn, with whom he became friends. After two months in New York, the media discovered he was there and he became a target for interviewers. He reciprocated with original ideas and opinions; however, he neither talked about his work nor did he paint. In September he moved out of the Arensbergs” apartment. Three months later he moved again. The rent for his new apartment forced him to look for work in addition to his classes, so through Pach he got a job at the French Institute.

Shortly after moving to his new apartment he bought two sheets of glass that would be the support of the Great glass, in which he worked two hours a day, although not every day. In winter he shared an apartment with Jean Crotti, who made a piece of metal on glass portraying Duchamp: Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, which Arensberg acquired and later disappeared. It was at that time that Duchamp bought a snowplow, hung it from the ceiling by a cable, titled it In Advance of the Broken Arm and signed it. It was an object chosen through “visual indifference and, at the same time, the total absence of good or bad taste” It is the first true ready-made: a work created by the artist”s choice, not by his skill. Shortly thereafter, he wrote to his sister Suzanne to turn the bottle holder into a ready-made in the distance. To do this, she only had to write an inscription on it. However, Suzanne had already thrown away the bottle holder and the bicycle wheel. In any case, the ready-made idea was born. Duchamp would say much later “I am not at all sure that the ready-made concept is not the most important idea that my work has produced.”

At that time he became the center of attraction of the Arensberg group because of his wit. He drank a lot, in the words of Albert Gleizes, and according to Gabrielle Picabia, “all his pupils fell into his arms”, because “he had acquired enough experience and knew how to behave in any situation”. In her inner circle were Picabia, the photographer Man Ray and Henri-Pierre Roché, with whom she would share a long friendship. Moreover, at this time Duchamp played chess every evening at the home of Arensberg, who had been a member of the Harvard team.

In addition to the Arensberg circle, Duchamp also moved in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz, who edited the magazine 291, where Duchamp collaborated by writing abstract poetry in French. He also treated Beatrice Wood. The 22-year-old girl said at their meeting that it seemed to her that modern art could be done by anyone, to which Duchamp replied that why not try. When Wood showed her his drawing, Duchamp told her he would try to get his friend Allen Norton to publish it in Rogue and offered to paint in his studio. Wood wrote of this time “Except for the physical act, we were lovers.” Wood later fell in love with Roché, who wrote a play, Victor, which he left unfinished and which Tomkins says is inspired by this love triangle. However, according to her own testimony, she did not sleep with him until 1917.

The Society of Independent Artists and the R. Mutt Fountain

From the beginning of 1917 the artists of the Arensberg circle founded the Society of Independent Artists, in imitation of the Salon des Indépendants, with the intention of organizing exhibitions without prize or jury. In two weeks they reached six hundred members. Duchamp was appointed head of the selection committee and decided that the works would be exhibited in alphabetical order according to the author”s surname. In total, 2125 works by 1200 artists were exhibited, making the exhibition the largest in the history of the United States. Duchamp did not submit any works under his own name, but he did submit them under the pseudonym R. MUTT.

The work in question was a urinal that Duchamp had bought with Arensberg and Stella. He knocked it over and painted the name R. MUTT on it. R. Mutt alluded on the one hand to Mott and the comic strip Mutt and Jeff and on the other hand the R. referred to Richard, “purse” in French slang. He sent it to the organization with the two dollar inscription and the title: Fountain. As Beatrice Wood wrote, the object caused quite a stir among some organizers, who considered it to be a joke or indecency. A vote was held to determine whether the urinal should be admitted to the exhibition, which its advocates lost. Duchamp and Arensberg resigned from the board. The urinal was exhibited in Gallery 291 where Stieglitz photographed it. The fate of the work is unknown. It is also unknown why Duchamp submitted it to the exhibition. According to Tomkins, it may have been a provocation aimed at the faction that took the matter more seriously.

Around that time Duchamp, Roché and Wood published The Blind Man where he reproduced the photograph taken by Stieglitz along with the editorial The Richard Mutt Case in which it is emphasized that the author chose the work, which makes it art. Fifty years later, Duchamp would say “I threw the urinal in their faces and now they admire it for its aesthetic beauty”.

The war

In 1916 Dadaism was originated in Zurich by a group of artists fleeing World War I. According to one of its founders, Tristan Tzara, Dadaism was not modern at all, and Duchamp associated it with Jarry and Aristophanes. According to one of its founders, Tristan Tzara, Dadaism was not modern at all, and Duchamp associated it with Jarry and Aristophanes. They declared that every human work is art and considered life more important than art. Duchamp, who also had no interest in going to war, shared many points with the Swiss Dadaists, but claimed that what he and his circle were doing in New York was “not Dada.” The difference, he said, was that the Dadaists “were fighting a battle against the public. And when you”re fighting a battle, it”s hard to laugh at the same time.” The atmosphere in New York was more jovial, yet Duchamp and his group became known as the New York Dadaists.

Around that time he began giving French lessons to Katherine Dreier, who would be present for the next thirty years of his life. Dreier, the daughter of wealthy German immigrants, was a founding director of the 1916 Society of Independent Artists, and had voted against the Fountain, but after Duchamp”s resignation she said that she did not find originality in it, but that if she had been helped to see it by those who did, she might have appreciated it. She later commissioned a painting from him for her library. It took Duchamp six months to make his first painting since 1914. The result, which he titled Tu m” (which Tomkins says is usually read as Tu m”emmerdes, or “you bore me”), is a retinal painting that Duchamp himself did not like. It was the last canvas he ever painted.

A little later, however, he would go to Buenos Aires with Yvonne Chapel, the reasons, according to a letter to Jean Crotti, seem to be the tension in the Arensberg marriage and the restrictions due to the war. The reasons, according to a letter to Jean Crotti, seem to be the tension in the Arensberg marriage and the restrictions due to the war. It is not known why he chose Argentina. During his travel preparations, Duchamp gave his works to friends, including a study of the Large Glass that he gave to Roché and a 7×5 cm miniature of Nude Descending a Staircase that he gave to the Stettheimer sisters.

Buenos Aires and Paris

Duchamp embarked with Chastel aboard the Crofton Hall for Buenos Aires, where they would arrive twenty-six days later with the intention of staying for a few years. Three weeks after their arrival he received the news of the death of his brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon, who had enlisted as a volunteer and contracted typhoid fever with complications in a military hospital.

According to what he wrote to Crotti, Duchamp found Buenos Aires to be very macho, as Buenos Aires society did not accept single women. Furthermore, he wrote to Ettie Stettheimer, “Buenos Aires does not exist. It is nothing more than a large provincial population with very rich people with no taste who buy everything in Europe”. But at the same time he liked it, for he continued “I am very glad to have discovered this very different life…in which I find pleasure in work.” He bought a glass and began to work on effects that he wanted to transfer to the Great Glass. He also tried to organize a cubist exhibition to introduce the Porteños to modern art, for which he asked for help from his friend Henri-Martin Barzun from Paris, who was to bring him thirty cubist paintings, Mallarmé”s poems and avant-garde magazines. Barzun did not collaborate and the exhibition did not prosper.

But soon he left work aside for chess. He bought chess magazines and studied games by José Raúl Capablanca. In 1919 he joined a chess club and began to play by correspondence with Arensberg. For Duchamp chess was “a masterpiece of Cartesianism” and “so imaginative that, at first sight, it does not even seem Cartesian” and he was attracted to confront the two attitudes, the chess and the artistic. Yvonne Chastel ended up getting tired of chess and returned to Paris.

Katherine Dreier paid him a visit and returned to New York with two works by Duchamp. The first was Estereoscopia a mano (Stéréoscopie à la main), which played with the stereoscopic effect: it consisted of two photographs on which he had drawn a polyhedron that, when viewed through a stereoscope, seemed to float above the landscape. The second was À regarder (de l”autre côte du verre), d”un oeil, de près, pendant presque une heure or To look (from the other side of the glass), with a wax eye for almost an hour, a title that Dreier would change to Equilibrio alterado (Disturbed balance). It was a glass in which he had applied the technique of scraping the silvering, which involves scraping a mercury base to obtain the forms sought. In the glass there are elements that would end up in the Great Glass, as the oculist sheets or scissors and others, such as the pyramid or magnifying glass.

But Duchamp had in mind to return to New York, which he did at the end of December. However, it gave him time to create three new ready-mades: the Cheque Tzanck (Chèque Tzanck), and Air de Paris (Air de Paris).

Back in New York

On his return to New York he found that the Arensbergs were no longer what they were, as they were in financial difficulties. Together with Dreier and Man Ray, they founded Société Anonyme, Inc. Duchamp insisted that modern art should be fun, as he considered it essential to revive America”s interest in new trends. Over the next twenty years, the Société Anonyme organized eighty-five exhibitions and introduced the work of Archipenko, Kandinsky, Klee, Léger, Villon, Eilshemius, Mondrian, and Schwitters despite a lack of funding.

Duchamp had the Large Glass moved to his new apartment, and the dust accumulated on it. Man Ray took a photograph of the result, which he titled Cultivation de puissière (Élevage de puissière), then fixed the dust from the cones, cleaned the rest, had the lower area silvered, and set about scraping it off to obtain the three oculist”s plates. He also built his first optical machine Rotative plaque verre (Optique de précision), which he did not consider art. This exploration led him to become interested in cinematography. He made a film of Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven shaving her pubis with stereoscopic effect. The film was damaged and only two strips that fit together were saved. In this sample the stereoscopic effect was appreciated. Otherwise, he played a lot of chess at the Marshall Chess Club, where he managed to beat Frank Marshall twice in simultaneous games that the master played against twelve opponents.

In 1920 Duchamp”s alter ego Rose Sélavy first saw the light of day. Duchamp bought a French window, covered the glass with black leather and pasted on the title: Fresh widow copyright Rose Sélavy 1920. Man Ray photographed Duchamp dressed in a fur coat and cloche hat, a shot that would accompany a bottle of perfume labeled Belle Haleine-Eau de Violette (Precious Breath-Water of Violette). Duchamp also used the name of his female alter ego in a very “rectified” ready-made: Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy. He later added an extra R to the name, which became Rrose Sélavy.

In June 1920 he visited Paris. There he met the Dadaist group, headed by Tzara, Picabia and Breton and also including Jacques Rigaut, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Gala, Theodore Fraenkel and Philippe Soupault, where he attended several events, but wrote to Ettie Stettheimer that “from a distance all these movements appear enhanced by an attractiveness they lack at close range. Duchamp attended several events, but wrote to Ettie Stettheimer that “from a distance all these movements appear enhanced by an attractiveness they lack at close range. During this visit he made a short film with Man Ray that played with optical effects and created a ready-made: La bagarre d”Austerlitz (The Trifecta of Austerlitz). The visit was brief, for in early 1921 he sailed back to New York. When asked why he preferred to live in New York, when many American artists were leaving for Paris, Duchamp replied that New Yorkers were more willing to leave him alone.

It was a time of detachment from friendships, love relationships and work. He neither finished the Great Glass nor began new works and refused to repeat himself. He edited an anthology of Henry McBride; he bought with his acquaintance Leon Hartl a dyeing workshop, a business that failed after six months, and ćhe managed to participate in simultaneous games against Capablanca.

Twenty years (almost uninterrupted) in Paris

Instead of going directly to Paris, Duchamp landed in Brussels, where he spent four months playing chess and participated in the Brussels Tournament, his first major tournament, in which he finished in third place.

In Paris, Breton cemented Duchamp”s French legend in his essay in the October issue of Littérature. Breton otherwise had little luck in attracting Duchamp to the surrealist movement. In fact, although he was on the jury of the Salon d”Automne, he was hardly associated with the artistic bustle of Paris. He barely received a commission from Jacques Doucet to make an optical machine, on which he worked during 1924 and which he called a rotating hemisphere (Rotative demi-sphère). Duchamp made it in exchange for the cost of the materials and the engineer who made it, and he made it clear that he did not want it to be exhibited. He also emphasized that he did not want anything other than optics to be seen in the machine. Breton continued to publish writings-often single phrases, such as My niece is cold because my knees are cold-by Duchamp

In 1924 he participated in René Clair and Picabia”s twenty-minute film Entr”acte, which was shown at a performance of the ballet Relâche. Duchamp appears in a scene playing chess with Man Ray until a jet of water interrupts the game. Later he participated in Cinésketch, in which he played the role of Adam, practically naked except for a fig leaf and a false beard, alongside Bronja Perlmutter, who played the role of Eve. At the end of 1925 he invested part of his inheritance – his parents died early that year – in a film, Anémic Cinéma, with calambures by Rrose Sélavy that revolved around records.

His main occupation, however, remained chess. He left Paris for weeks at a time to participate in tournaments. He played on the Riviera with the Nice team, and returned to participate in the Brussels Tournament the year after his return to Europe. He came fourth. He was invited to the team that would represent France in the first unofficial chess Olympics in 1924, where France came seventh. Shortly thereafter he was named champion of Upper Normandy by winning a tournament in Rouen. At this time he made his Bono para la roulette de Monte-Carlo (Obligations for the roulette of Monte-Carlo), in which appeared a photograph of him taken by Man Ray with his face covered with foam and forming two horns. These bonds, valued at 500 francs, promised a return of twenty percent. The money was invested in a system that Duchamp had developed to win at roulette. Profits were meager, however, but the bonds would eventually appreciate in value.

In 1925 he participated in the French chess championship. Duchamp designed the poster for the event. He finished sixth, but came close to beating the champion, Robert Crepeaux.

To the surprise of his acquaintances, Duchamp married Lydie Sarrazin-Levassor, whom he had met through Picabia, in 1927. On the occasion of his wedding, Duchamp wrote to Katherine Dreier, “I am getting married in June. I don”t know how to explain it, because it has been so sudden that I find it difficult to explain. She is not particularly pretty or attractive, but she seems to have a mentality capable of understanding how I can cope with marriage.” Tomkins believes that Duchamp married for the financial stability offered by Lydie”s father, an automobile manufacturer. However, the pension he granted his daughter was a meager 2500 francs. Although the first few weeks were, according to Lydie, who writes “we were very close, very intimate” and Duchamp, who writes in a letter to Walter Pach “it has been a delightful experience so far and I hope it will remain so. My life has not changed at all; I have to earn money, but not for two,” in the summer problems surfaced. Lydie was a stranger to modern art, and did not fit in with Duchamp”s friends, for example when Crotti asked her to pose nude. Nor did she cope well with Duchamp”s fondness for chess, which kept him studying game situations until the early hours of the morning. On one occasion he glued the pieces to the board. Shortly thereafter Duchamp told him that he was going to play with Man Ray and would not return. They continued to see each other until Duchamp asked her for a divorce in October, which was granted on January 25, 1928.

After the divorce, Duchamp continued his relationship with Mary Reynolds and continued to participate in chess tournaments. In 1929 he traveled with Dreier to Spain and Germany. In the Hyéres Tournament he was awarded the prize for brilliance and in the 1930 Turnoi International de Paris he played with the best chess players on the planet. He finished last, but drew with Savielly Tartakower and made a draw with George Koltanowsky. He participated in several competitions with the French national team, captained by Alexander Alekhine, world champion, losing more games than he won. Edward Lasker considered him “a very solid player”. In 1933 he participated in his last major tournament in Folkestone.

As an artist he set to work on publishing the notes he had made in relation to the Large Glass, since the glass, without them, was incomprehensible to the naked eye, as it was an accumulation of ideas not only visual, but also verbal. He gathered these notes, along with reproductions of seventeen earlier works and photographs of Man Ray in a green box, which contained ninety-four items.

Duchamp maintained a long relationship of friendship with numerous artists of the European and American avant-garde. Among them was Joan Miró, whom he met as early as 1917 in Barcelona, and their relationship deepened in the 1920s and 1930s. A new impulse came through Teeny, one of the people for whom the Catalan and his wife Pilar had the highest esteem. Teeny was the colloquial name of Duchamp”s second wife, born Alexina Sattler (Cincinnati, January 20, 1906-Villiers-sur-Grez, December 20, 1995). She had separated from Pierre Matisse, Miro”s well-known New York art dealer, in 1948 and divorced the following year. She had met Duchamp much earlier, in 1923, and when they met again in the fall of 1951 they began a relationship that ended in marriage on January 19, 1954. She brought to the marriage her three children, Paul, Jacqueline and Peter, the same children for whose bedroom Miró had painted a mural in 1939. Teeny brought her own Miró collection, as evidenced by a letter from Duchamp, in a letter dated June 5, 1956 to Roché referring to Teeny”s willingness to give him a Miró and a Rouault in exchange for a Duchamp he wished to retrieve. One of the pieces was the drawing Untitled (1946) (DDL 1074). In 1955 Duchamp became a naturalized American citizen.

He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1968.

The original work is in the Philadelphia museum and is cracked, due to poor packing during the transfer to the Brooklyn Museum in 1926, the only time it could be seen in its original state. Ten years later, Duchamp himself restored the piece at the home of Katherine Dreier, at that time its owner.

In the field of sculpture he pioneered two of the main ruptures of the twentieth century: kinetic art and ready-made art. The latter consisted simply in the arbitrary combination or arrangement of everyday objects, such as a urinal (Fountain, 1917) or a bottle holder, which could become art at the artist”s wish.

The ready-made introduced a strong critique of the institutionalism and fetishism of works of art, provoking enormous tensions even within the surrealist circle itself.

His Bicycle Wheel (third version 1951, Museum of Modern Art, New York), one of the earliest examples of kinetic art, was mounted on a kitchen stool.

In addition to his plastic work, it is very important to highlight his fondness for puns that were often present in the titles of his works, producing a multiplicity of hilarious readings.

His creative period was short and then he left it to others to develop the themes he had devised; although he was not very prolific, his influence was crucial for the development of surrealism, Dada and Pop Art, and even to this day, he remains the crucial artist for the understanding of postmodernism.

It is common to find readings with explicitly sexual content in Duchamp”s works; in general, the analyses of his work move between psychoanalysis and the academic and institutional questioning of the visual arts.

During the last years of his life, Duchamp secretly prepared what would be his last work, and which would be assembled only after his death, this is a diorama that is observed through a hole in a door of the Philadelphia museum, what is seen inside is a part of a woman”s body, holding a lamp in a rural landscape. The title adds even more uncertainty to the readings that can be made of the work, “Dice: 1. The waterfall 2. (Etant donnés: 1-la chute d”eau, 2- le gaz d”éclairage).

There is another “reading” of Duchamp”s work, and, by inclusion, of all so-called “modern art”: All of his work is a mockery of the viewer, completely devoid of meaning of any kind.Dalí openly mocked the “search for readings” of modern art critics. He used to say: “I don”t even know what this is, but it is full of meaning”.

The ready-made

The ready-made is a difficult concept to define even for Duchamp himself, who declared that he had not found a satisfactory definition. It is a reaction against retinal art, that is, visual art, as opposed to an art that is learned from the mind. By creating works of art from objects simply by choosing them, Duchamp attacks at the root the problem of determining what the nature of art is and tries to demonstrate that such a task is a chimera. In his choice, Duchamp tried to leave his personal taste aside; the objects chosen must have been visually, or retinatively, indifferent to him. For this reason he limited the number of ready-mades to be created. However, he knew that choice is a manifestation of one”s own taste. In this respect he declared that it was a “little game between me and myself”.

In retrospect, Bicycle Wheel on a Stool can be considered the first ready-made, although at the time Duchamp did not interpret it as such, nor did he do so with Bottle Holder. These two works, chosen in Paris, were lost after they were moved. The first completely authentic ready-made is a snowplow that he hung from the ceiling by a thread and titled In Advance of the Broken Arm. A week later he bought a chimney fan and called it Pulled at 4 Pins, which in English has no meaning, but whose French translation, tiré a quatre èpingles, can be translated as “tip-top”. With the exception of bicycle wheel and bottle holder, which as noted are not ready-mades per se, these works often have names that are apparently unrelated to the object.

In the spring of 1916 he chose three new ready-mades. Peigne was a canine comb signed with the initials M.D. Although the title is descriptive, the accompanying inscription is not: “3 ou 4 gouttes de hauteur n”ont rien a faire avec la sauvagerie” (3 or 4 drops of height have nothing to do with savagery). As he wrote on the very day of its creation, with the inscription he intended to transform the act into an event for the future. Pliant… de voyage is a typewriter cover, which makes it the first soft sculpture. À bruit secret (A secret noise) is a ball of string between two square sheets of brass held together by four screws. Duchamp told Arensberg to put a small object inside the ball, without telling him what it was, so that when it was shaken it would generate sound. On the brass plates is an unintelligible inscription with incomplete and overlapping English and French words. In 1917 he converted a Sapolin paint advertisement in which he modified some letters in Apolinère Enameled, creating a rectified ready-made, as it is modified.

He later signed a painting of a battle scene from the Café des Artistes, thus making it a ready-made. He also said that one could sign the Woolworth Building skyscraper to make it a ready-made or use a Rembrandt as an ironing board.

In 1917 he chose a wooden plank with several squares that he had acquired for hanging clothes but left on the floor for a while and with which he used to stumble and nailed it definitively to the floor, calling it Trébuchet (Coat rack), making a play on words with trébucher (stumbling) Porte-chapeau was a circular coat rack that he fastened to the ceiling.

His most famous ready-made is probably Fountain (1917), presented at the Society of Independent Artists exhibition. In the Blind Man editorial it was emphasized that it was not important whether the author had made it himself or not, but that it was the act of choice that transforms a plumbing fixture into a work of art, and creates a new thought for the object.

However, the authorship of his Fountain is questioned, as it is believed that it was not he but a lover, the Dadaist artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who conceived it. Before the exhibition of this work, in April 1917, Duchamp wrote a letter to his sister stating that “a friend, using the pseudonym Richard Mutt, sent me a porcelain urinal in the form of a sculpture”. No one knew who Mutt was, but Duchamp claimed that he was the author. Mutt”s clues were followed, which led to Philadelphia, where the aforementioned Elsa had gone to live. In addition, the ready-made works of this sculptor show pieces of urinals, so closely related to Fuente.

Escultura de viaje (Sculpture de voyage) is a work made with bathing caps cut into strips, glued and nailed to his wall, which he made shortly before leaving for Buenos Aires.



  1. Marcel Duchamp
  2. Marcel Duchamp
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