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Wikipedia About Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp was a French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Considered by some to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Duchamp’s output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art. He advised modern art collectors, such as Peggy Guggenheim and other prominent figures, thereby helping to shape the tastes of Western art during this period. Duchamp challenged conventional thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much by writing, but through subversive actions. He famously dubbed a urinal art and named it Fountain, though in a 1917 letter to his sister Duchamp indicates that a female friend, possibly the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, conceived of the urinal as sculpture and sent it to him under the pseudonym Richard Mutt. Duchamp produced relatively few artworks, while moving quickly through the avant-garde circles 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 Full Wikipedia Article

essay Marcel Duchamp, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Among the most radical aspects of Marcel Duchamp’s practice—which is a fountainhead in the history of twentieth-century art—was his insistence that the most interesting art springs from a nimble mind rather than a skilled hand. Operating out of a spirit of serious play, he used chance techniques and quasi-mechanical processes to create his works, sidestepping the personal and the handmade. He made so many variations, versions, and replicas of his objects that conventional distinctions between definitions of “original” and “reproduction” collapse like a house of cards. This activity was taken to its logical limits in his notorious “readymades”—functional objects without aesthetic pretension (such as a urinal), which he simply purchased and designated as his artwork (and which, today, exist only as copies, since all the “original” readymades have been lost). Duchamp’s work developed alongside and against the formal explorations of Cubism, clearing an alternate conceptual path that has been followed by artists from Jasper Johns to members of Fluxus to Robert Gober.

In 1935 Duchamp wrote to a patron that he was thinking of making “an album of approximately all the things I produced.”1 The next year he embarked on the project, which lasted more than thirty years, and produced nearly 300 albums containing dozens of two- and three-dimensional reproductions of his works—an artist’s version of a salesman’s sample kit.2 The albums, which he titled de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sélavy (From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy), are like miniature retrospectives of his career in personal, portable museums.3 When opened, the box becomes architectural, with three vertical “walls” and a “floor,” and its unbound contents can be examined in any order the viewer wishes. The reproductions were supervised by Duchamp but made by others, using techniques (such as collotype, a labor-intensive process used to reproduce photographs) that reside some-where between the mechanical and the handmade. Authorship is confused by the work’s ambiguous attribution (to either Duchamp or his alter ego, Rrose Sélavy), and we are even given two ways to think about its creation: the passive “from” and the active “by.” This work is often cited as the catalyst for artists’ burgeoning interest in multiples during the 1960s, and it certainly inspired Fluxus artist George Maciunas to create unorthodox anthologies like the Fluxkit, which was packaged in a briefcase. Although made in multiple copies, such works were not seen as secondary documents. As Duchamp noted drily in 1952, “Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase.”4

  1. Quoted in Ecke Bonk, Marcel Duchamp: The Box in a Valise, trans. David Britt (New York: Rizzoli, 1989), 147.

  2. The boxes contained between sixty-eight and eighty objects each, depending on the year of issue. The Walker Art Center’s copy, from Series F, was produced in 1966 in Milan by Duchamp scholar Arturo Schwarz and signed by Duchamp. It contains eighty items documenting works from 1910 to 1954. See Bonk, Box in a Valise, 301.

  3. This work is often referred to as Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), but that is the correct subtitle only for the first twenty-four copies (Series A), which are contained in a leather carrying case. The rest are subtitled simply Boîte. See Bonk, Box in a Valise, 257.

  4. Quoted in ibid., 257. A 1943 copy of the Boîte-en-valise was shown at the Walker in 1965 as part of the traveling exhibition Not Seen and/or Less Seen of/by Marcel Duchamp/Rrose Sélavy 1904–64.

Rothfuss, Joan. “Marcel Duchamp.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center