Marcel Duchamp

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Image:Marcel Duchamp.jpg
Marcel Duchamp. 1930. Photo by Man Ray.

Marcel Duchamp (pronounced [maʀsɛl dyʃɑ̃]) (July 28, 1887October 2, 1968) was a French artist (he became an American citizen in 1955) whose work and ideas had considerable influence on the development of post-World War II Western art, and whose advice to modern art collectors helped shape the tastes of the Western art world.

While he is most often associated with the Dada and Surrealism movements, his participation in Surrealism was largely behind the scenes, and after being involved in New York Dada, he barely participated in Paris Dada.

Thousands of books and articles attempt to interpret Duchamp's work and philosophy, but in interviews and his writing, Duchamp only added to the mystery. The interpretations interested him as creations of their own, and as reflections of the interpreter.

A playful man, Duchamp prodded thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much with words, but with actions such as dubbing a urinal art and naming it Fountain, and by "giving up" art to play chess. He produced relatively few artworks as he quickly moved through the avant-garde rhythms of his time.

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. (Marcel Duchamp)

Born Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp in Blainville-Crevon Seine-Maritime in the Haute-Normandie Region of France, his family respected and encouraged cultural activities. The art of painter and engraver Emile Nicolle, his maternal grandfather, filled the house. The family played chess, read books, painted and made music together.

Of Eugene and Lucie Duchamp's seven children, one died as an infant and four became successful artists. Marcel Duchamp was the brother of:

Jacques Villon (1875-1963), painter, printmaker
Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), sculptor
Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti (1889-1963), painter

As a child, with his two older brothers already away from home at school in Rouen, Duchamp was closest to his sister Suzanne who was a willing accomplice in the games and activities conjured from his fertile imagination.

At 10 years old, Duchamp followed in his brothers' footsteps when he left home and began schooling at Lycée Corneille in Rouen. For the next 7 years he was locked into an educational regime which focused on intellectual development. Though not an outstanding student, his best subject was math, and he won two math prizes at the school. He also won a prize for drawing in 1903, and at his commencement in 1904 he won a coveted first prize validating his recent decision to become an artist.

He took drawing classes and learned academic drawing from a teacher who unsuccessfully attempted to protect his students from Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and other avant-garde influences. However, Duchamp's mentor was his brother Jacques Villon whose fluid and incisive style he sought to imitate. At 14, his first serious art attempts were drawings and watercolors depicting Suzanne Duchamp in various poses and activities. That summer he painted landscapes in an Impressionist style using oils.

On June 8 1927, Duchamp married Lydie Sarazin-Lavassor. They divorced six months later on 25 January 1928. It was gossiped at the time that it was a marriage of convenience for Duchamp, whose "plump" new bride was the daughter of a wealthy automobile manufacturer, and her marriage contract was to have supplied him with a steady source of income while he painted and pursued his interests in chess. In that, however, he was disappointed, for a few weeks before their wedding day her father informed him that Lydie would be given an allowance of 2,500 francs a month, only enough for a modest apartment. During their brief marriage, Duchamp spent most of his time playing chess in various tournaments in and around Nice. So frustrated did his bride become with his "chess absences," that one night while he slept she glued all of his chesspieces to the board. Early in January 1928 Duchamp told Lydie that he could no longer bear the responsibility and confinement of marriage, and a little over three weeks later they were divorced. (Hulten, Pontus. "Marcel Duchamp, Work and Life: Ephemerides on and about Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy, 1887-1968." Pages 8-9 June (1927) to 25 January (1928). ISBN 0-262-08225-X.)

In 1954, he and Alexina "Teeny" Sattler married, and they remained together until his death. In 1955, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. The last surviving member of the Duchamp family of artists, in 1967 in Rouen Duchamp helped organize an exhibition called "Les Duchamp: Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp." Some of this family exhibition was later shown at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.

Marcel Duchamp died on October 2 1968 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France and is buried in the Rouen Cemetery, in Rouen, Normandy, France. His grave bears the epitaph, "D'ailleurs, c'est toujours les autres qui meurent;" or "Anyway, it's always other people that die."


[edit] Early work

Duchamp's early art works align with Post-Impressionist styles. He experimented with classical techniques and subjects, as well as, Cubism and Fauvism. When he was later asked about what influenced him at the time Duchamp cited the work of Symbolist painter Odilon Redon, whose approach to art was not outwardly anti-academic, but quietly individual.

He studied art at Académie Julian (1904 to 1905), but preferred playing billards to attending classes. During this time Duchamp drew and sold cartoons which reflected his ribald humor. Many of the drawings use visual and/or verbal puns. Such play with words and symbols engaged his imagination for the rest of his life.

In 1905 he began his compulsory military service working for a printer in Rouen. There he learned typography and printing processes.

Due to his brother Jacques Villon's membership in the prestigious Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture Duchamp's work hung in the 1908 Salon d'Automne, Duchamp's work displayed in the show. The following year his work displayed in the Salon des Indépendants. Of Duchamp's pieces in show, critic Guillaume Apollinaire wrote, "... Duchamp's very ugly nudes..."

In 1911 at his eldest brother Jacques Villon's home in Puteaux the Duchamp brothers hosted regular discussion group with other artists and writers including Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Roger de la Frenaye, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, and Alesander Archipenko. The group came to be known as the Puteaux Group, and the artists' work dubbed Orphic cubism.

Disinterested in the Cubists' seriousness and their focus on visual matters, he did not join Cubist theory conversations, and gained a reputation of being shy. However, that same year he painted in a Cubist style, adding his impression of movement by repeating imagery.

Also in 1911 he gave his first "machine" painting, Moulin à café (Coffee Mill), to his brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon.

During this period Duchamp's fascination with transition, change, movement and distance began to manifest, and like many artists of the time he was intriged with the concept of the 4th dimension and depicting it.

It was at the 1911 Salon d' Automne that Duchamp met Francis Picabia, an exuberant artist, and they became life-long friends. Picabia introduced him to the life of fast cars and 'high' living.

Portrait of Chess Players

His 1911 Portrait of Chess Players (Portrait de joueurs d'echecs) shows the Cubist overlapping frames and multiple perspectives of his two brothers playing chess, but to that he added elements conveying the mental activity of the players. It is also notable "échec" is french for "failure"

Nude Descending a Staircase (Main article: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2)

In 1912, Duchamp painted Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un éscalier n° 2), in which the motion of the mechanistic nude is expressed by superimposed images, similar to motion pictures. The painting shows elements of both the fragmentation and synthesis of the Cubists, and the movement and dynamism of the Futurists.

He first submitted the work to appear at the Cubist Salon des Indépendants, but jurist Albert Gleizes asked Duchamp's brothers to have him voluntarily withdraw the painting, or paint over the title that he had painted on the work and rename it something else.

Of the incident Duchamp later recalled, "I said nothing to my brothers. But I went immediately to the show and took my painting home in a taxi. It was really a turning point in my life, I can assure you. I saw that I would not be very much interested in groups after that."

Later he submitted the painting to the 1913 Armory Show in New York City. The show displayed works of American artists and was the first major exhibition of the modern trends coming out of Paris. American show-goers who were accustomed to realistic art were scandalized.

[edit] Leaving "retinal art" behind

About this time Duchamp read Max Stirner's philosophical tract The Ego and Its Own, the study of which Duchamp considered the turning point in his artistic and intellectual development. He called it "...a remarkable book ... which advances no formal theories, but just keeps saying that the ego is always there in everything."

Duchamp also credited the stage adaption of Raymond Roussel's 1910 novel, Impressions d'Afrique which featured plots that turned in on themselves, word play, surrealistic sets and humanoid machines with radically changing his approach to art, and inspiring him to begin his creation of The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).

He began to write notes for the glass — scribbling short notes to himself, sometimes with hurried sketches.

Little is known about Duchamp's two-month stay in Germany in 1912, except that the friend he visited was intent to show him the sights and the night life. In Germany, he painted the last of his Cubist-like paintings and a "bride stripped bare by her bachelors" image, in addition to beginning his notes on The Large Glass.

Later that year he travelled with Picabia, Apollinaire and Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia through the Jura mountains. Buffet-Picabia described the journey as one of their "forays of demoralization, which were also forays of witticism and clownery ... the disintegration of the concept of art." Duchamp's notes from the trip avoid logic and sense with a sort of surrealistic mythical flavor.

Duchamp painted few canvases after 1912. In the paintings of the time he attempted to remove "painterly" effects, and instead used a technical drawing approach.

At an exhibition of aviation technology Duchamp said to his friend Constantin Brancusi, "Painting is washed up. Who will ever do anything better than that propellor? Tell me, can you do that?" Ironically, Brancusi later sculpted bird forms that U.S. Customs officials mistook for aviation parts and for which they attempted to collect import duties.

Duchamp began working as a librarian in the Bibliotèque Sainte-Geneviève where he earned a living wage and withdrew from painting circles into scholarly realms. He studied math and physics, areas where exciting new discoveries were taking place.

The theoretical writings of Henri Poincaré intrigued and inspired Duchamp. Poincaré postulated that the laws believed to govern matter were created solely by the minds that "understood" them and no theory could be considered "true." "The things themselves are not what science can reach..., but only the relations between things. Outside of these relations there is no knowable reality," Poincaré wrote in 1902.

Duchamp's own art-science experiments began during his tenure at the library. To make one of his favorite pieces, 3 Standard Stoppages (3 stoppages étalon), one at a time from a height of 1 meter, he dropped three 1-meter lengths of thread onto a prepared canvases. They landed in three random undulating positions. He varnished them into place on the blue-black canvas strips and attached them to glass. Then he cut three wood slats into the shapes of the curved strings, and put all the pieces into a croquet box. Three small leather signs with the title printed in gold were glued to each of the "stoppage" backgrounds. The piece appears to literally follow Poincaré's School of the Thread, part of a book on classical mechanics.

In 1913 Duchamp began inventing a repertoire of forms for The Large Glass with notes, sketches and painted studies. He also drew some of his ideas on the wall of his new apartment.

In his studio he mounted a bicycle wheel upside down onto a stool, spinning it occasionally just to watch it. Later he denied that its creation was purposeful. "I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in the fireplace," he said.

Meanwhile, Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 was scandalizing Americans at the Armory Show, and the sale of all four of his paintings in the show financed his trip to America in 1915.

After World War I was declared in 1914, with his brothers and many friends in military service - and himself exempted - Paris felt uncomfortable to Duchamp and he decided to emigrate to the then neutral United States.

When he arrived in America in 1915, to his surprise he found he was a celebrity. He befriended art patron Katherine Dreier and artist Man Ray. Duchamp's circle also included art patrons Louise and Walter Arensberg, actress and artist Beatrice Wood and his friend Francis Picabia, as well as other avant-garde figures. He spoke little English, but in the course of supporting himself by giving French lessons and some library work, he quickly learned the language.

For two years the Arensbergs, who remained his friends and patrons for 42 years, were the landlords to his studio with payment to be The Large Glass. An art gallery offered him $10,000 per year for all of his yearly production, but he turned it down preferring to work on The Large Glass.

[edit] Société Anonyme

Katherine Dreier, Man Ray and Duchamp founded the Société Anonyme in 1920. The group collected modern art works, and arranged modern art exhibitions and lectures.

By this time Walter Pach, one of the coordinators of the 1913 Armory Show, sought Duchamp's advice on modern art. Beginning with Société Anonyme, Dreier depended on his counsel in gathering her collection, as did Peggy Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art directors Alfred Barr and James Johnson Sweeney.

[edit] Dada

New York Dada had a less serious tone than that of Europe, and wasn't a particularly organized venture. Duchamp's friend Picabia connected with the Dada group in Zûrich, bringing to New York the Dada ideas of absurdity and anti-art. Together with Man Ray and many from the group that met almost nightly at the Arensberg home or caroused in Greenwich Village, Duchamp contributed his ideas about art and his humor to the New York activities, much of which ran concurrent with the development of readymades and The Large Glass.

His submission of Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists show is considered a Dada act.

Duchamp was one of the three authors who produced the magazine The Blind Man, the other two being Henri-Pierre Roché and Beatrice Wood who served as publisher since neither Duchamp nor Roché were US citizens and so were prohibited from publishing anything.

[edit] Readymades

Image:Duchamp Fountaine.jpg
Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, 1917, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

Main article: Readymades of Marcel Duchamp.

It is necessary to arrive at selecting an object with the idea of not being impressed by this object on the basis of enjoyment of any order. However, it is difficult to select an object that absolutely does not interest you, not only on the day on which you select it, and which does not have any chance of becoming attractive or beautiful and which is neither pleasant to look at nor particularly ugly. (Marcel Duchamp)

Duchamp developed the term "readymade" in 1915 to refer to found objects chosen by the artist as art. Duchamp assembled the first readymade, a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool titled Bicycle Wheel (1913), the same time as his Nude Descending A Staircase was attracting the attention of critics at the International Exhibition of Modern Art. Bottle Rack (1914), a bottle drying rack signed by Duchamp, is considered to be the first "pure" readymade. Prelude to a Broken Arm (Nov. 1915), a snow shovel, followed soon after. His Fountain, a urinal which he signed with the pseudonym "R. Mutt", shocked the art world in 1917. The piece was rejected when he submitted it to the unjuried 1917 Society of Independent Artists.

[edit] Doubts over readymades

Research published in 1997 by art historian Rhonda Roland Shearer claims that Duchamp's supposedly "found" objects may actually have been created by Duchamp. (See Readymades of Marcel Duchamp.)

[edit] The Large Glass

Image:Duchamp LargeGlass.jpg
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). (1915-23). Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels. 109 1/4" x 69 1/4". Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Main article: The Large Glass.

In 1918 Duchamp went to Buenos Aires, Argentina for nine months. There he often played chess, and, he carved from wood the only chess set he himself made, though a local craftsman made the knights.

He returned to Paris in 1919 where he lived until he returned to the United States in 1920.

In 1923 he concluded work on his The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), a piece he began construction of in 1915. The work is documented through his numerous notes and studies, as well as preliminary works, and would be, for the piece.

[edit] Kinetic art

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[edit] Abandons art for chess

By the time he moved to Paris in 1923 he was no longer a practicing artist. Instead he played and studied chess, which he played for the rest of his life to the near exclusion of all other activity. Duchamp's obsessive fascination with chess can be traced back much earlier to the themes of his major art pieces. The most immediately obvious of these is the chess position known as "trébuchet" (the trap), which gave its title to the Readymade of 1917: a coat rack with four hooks, which is nailed to the floor, hooks uppermost.

Not only did he design the 1925 Poster for the Third French Chess Championship, but he finished the event at fifty percent (3-3, with 2 draws), and thus earned the title of chess master. During this period his fascination with chess distressed his first wife so much that she glued his pieces to the board, which possibly contributed to their divorce four months later. He went on to play in the French Championships and also in the Olympiads from 1928-1933, favoring hypermodern openings like the Nimzo-Indian. In spite of his efforts he was unable to move from the rank of a strong French master to the rank of a strong international grand master. Sometime in the early 1930s, Duchamp realized that he had reached the height of his ability and had no real chance of winning recognition in top-level chess. Over the following years, the intensity of his participation in chess tournaments declined but he discovered correspondence chess and became a chess journalist writing weekly newspaper columns.

In 1932 Duchamp teamed up with fellow chess theorist Halberstadt to publish "L'opposition et cases conjuguées sont réconciliées" (Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled). This treatise describes the Lasker-Reichelm position, a unique and extremely rare position that can arise in the endgame of a chess match. In conclusion, the authors observe that the most Black can hope for is a draw. Given accurate play by White, Black can only succeed in delaying the progress of events, ultimately losing to White. They demonstrate this fact by plotting the game play on enneagram-like charts that fold in upon themselves. Grasping the central theme of this work, the endgame, is an important key to understanding Duchamp's complex attitude towards his artistic career. While his contemporaries were achieving spectacular success in the art world by selling their visions to high society collectors and trend setters, Duchamp observed "I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art - and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position." Duchamp can be seen, very briefly, playing chess with Man Ray in the short film Entr'acte (1924) by Rene Clair.

His theme of the endgame was picked up by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett who used it as the narrative device for his commercially successful 1957 play of the same name, "Endgame". One of Duchamp's most notable chess games occurred in 1968, at a concert called "Reunion" at Ryerson Polytechnic in Toronto. His opponent was the avant-garde composer and event organizer John Cage. The music was produced by a series of photoelectric cells underneath each square of the chessboard which were sporadically triggered during normal game play.

On choosing a career in chess Duchamp had this to say: "If Bobby Fischer came to me for advice, I certainly would not discourage him - as if anyone could - but I would try to make it positively clear that he will never have any money from chess, live a monk-like existence and know more rejection than any artist ever has, struggling to be known and accepted."

[edit] Artistic involvement

He continued to associate with artists, art dealers and collectors, but he did not produce art per se.

From 1925 he often travelled to and from France and the United States.

In the 1960s he lectured on art and participated in formal discussions. He joined the international literary group Oulipo in 1962.

[edit] Collaboration with Surrealists

From the mid-1930s onwards he collaborated with the Surrealists and participated in their exhibitions. Duchamp settled permanently in New York in 1942. From then until 1944, together with Max Ernst, Eugenio Granell and André Breton, he edited the Surrealist periodical VVV, in New York.

[edit] Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas.

Though Duchamp publicly gave up art, from 1946 to 1966 he created ''Given: 1 The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas. (Etant donnés: 1. la chute d'eau/2. le gaz d'éclairage)

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[edit] Legacy

Duchamp is usually considered to have a negative attitude to later artists who developed the ideas he had initiated, because of this quote which is widely attributed to him:

This Neo-Dada, which they call New Realism, Pop Art, Assemblage, etc., is an easy way out, and lives on what Dada did. When I discovered the ready-mades I sought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken my readymades and found aesthetic beauty in them, I threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty.

However, it had actually been written in a letter to him in 1961 by fellow Dadaist Hans Richter, but in the second person not the first, i.e. "You threw... etc". In the margin next to it, Duchamp had written, "Ok, ça va très bien" ("that's really fine"). Richter did not make this clear for many years. [1]

Duchamp's attitude is actually far more favourable as his words in 1964 evidence:

Pop Art is a return to "conceptual" painting, virtually abandoned, except by the Surrealists, since Courbet, in favour of retinal painting... If you take a Campbell soup can and repeat it 50 times, you are not interested in the retinal image. What interests you is the concept that wants to put 50 Campbell soup cans on a canvas.

Perhaps in tribute, surrealist Salvador Dalí wrote a preface to Pierre Cabanne's Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, a transcription of interviews between Cabanne and Duchamp. In it, Dalí oddly writes "Marcel Duchamp spoke to me, during the course of the Second World War (traveling between Arcachon and Bordeaux) of a new interest in the preparation of shit, of which the small excretions from the navel are the "deluxe" editions. To this I replied that I wished to have genuine shit, from the navel of Raphael. Today Pop artist Verona sells artists' shit in very sophisticated packaging as a luxury item." [2]

In December 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 of the most powerful people in the British art world. This is testimony to the influence of Duchamp's work, and the mark he has left on the art world. In early January 2006, a replica of Fountain was attacked by Pierre Pinoncelli.

[edit] Trivia

[edit] Female Alter-Ego

Marcel Duchamp had a female alter-ego named Rrose Sélavy.

[edit] Selected works and genres

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[edit] Footnotes


[edit] References

  • Tompkins, Calvin (1996). Duchamp: A Biography. U.S.: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-5789-7.
  • Marquis, Alice Goldfarb (2002). Marcel Duchamp: The Bachelor Stripped Bare. Boston: Museum of Fine Art. ISBN 0-87846-644-4.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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