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Artists Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp

French Painter and Sculptor

Movements: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Conceptual Art

Born: July 28, 1887 - Normandy, France

Died: October 2, 1968 - Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

Quotes

On his attitude about art: "It is paradoxical. It is almost schizophrenic. On one side I worked from a very intellectual form of activity, and on the other de-deifying everything by more materialistic thoughts."
Marcel Duchamp
On the readymade: "The readymade is the consequence of the refusal which made me say: There are so many people who make pictures with their hands, that one should end up not using the hand."
Marcel Duchamp
On chess: "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."
Marcel Duchamp

"You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something which needs no definition."

Synopsis

Few artists can boast having changed the course of art history in the way that Marcel Duchamp did. Having assimilated the lessons of Cubism and Futurism, whose joint influence may be felt in his early paintings, he spearheaded the American Dada movement together with his friends and collaborators Picabia and Man Ray. By challenging the very notion of what is art, his first readymades sent shock waves across the art world that can still be felt today. Duchamp's ongoing preoccupation with the mechanisms of desire and human sexuality as well as his fondness for wordplay aligns his work with that of Surrealists, although he steadfastly refused to be affiliated with any specific artistic movement per se. In his insistence that art should be driven by ideas above all, Duchamp is generally considered to be the father of Conceptual art. His refusal to follow a conventional artistic path, matched only by a horror of repetition which accounts for the relatively small number of works Duchamp produced in the span of his short career, ultimately led to his withdrawal from the art world. In later years, Duchamp famously spent his time playing chess, even as he labored away in secret at his last enigmatic masterpiece, which was only unveiled after his death in 1968.

Key Ideas

Coined by Duchamp, the term "readymade" came to designate mass-produced everyday objects taken out of their usual context and promoted to the status of artworks by the mere choice of the artist. A performative act as much as a stylistic category, the readymade had far-reaching implications for what can legitimately be considered an object of art.
Duchamp rejected purely visual or what he dubbed "retinal pleasure," deeming it to be facile, in favor of more intellectual, concept-driven approaches to art-making and, for that matter, viewing. He remained committed, however, to the study of perspective and optics which underpins his experiments with kinetic devices, reflecting an ongoing concern with the representation of motion and machines common to Futurist and Surrealist artists at the time.
A taste for jokes, tongue-in-cheek wit and subversive humor, rife with sexual innuendoes, characterizes Duchamp's work and makes for much of its enjoyment. He fashioned puns out of everyday expressions which he conveyed through visual means. The linguistic dimension of his work in particular paved the way for Conceptual art.

Most Important Art

Fountain (1917)
The most notorious of the readymades, Fountain was submitted to the 1917 Society of Independent Artists under the pseudonym R. Mutt. The initial R stood for Richard, French slang for "moneybags" whereas Mutt referred to JL Mott Ironworks, the New York-based company, which manufactured the porcelain urinal. After the work had been rejected by the Society on the grounds that it was immoral, critics who championed it disputed this claim, arguing that an object was invested with new significance when selected by an artist for display. Testing the limits of what constitutes a work of art, Fountain staked new grounds. What started off as an elaborate prank designed to poke fun at American avant-garde art, proved to be one of most influential artworks of the 20th century.
Urinal - Philadelphia Museum of Art
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Biography

Childhood

Marcel Duchamp Biography

Marcel Duchamp was raised in Normandy, in a family of artists. His father was mayor of Blainville and his mother raised their seven children and painted landscapes depicting the French countryside. Family time was spent playing chess, reading, painting, and playing music. One of Marcel's earliest artworks, Landscape at Blainville (1902), painted at age fifteen, reflected his family's love of Claude Monet. Marcel was close to his two older brothers, and in 1904, after both had left home to become artists, he joined them in Paris to study painting at Académie Julian. His brother, Jacques Villon, supported him during his studies, and Marcel earned some income by working as a cartoonist. Duchamp's early drawings evince his ongoing interest in visual and verbal puns.

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Early Training

Marcel Duchamp Photo

Paris in the early 1900s was the ideal place for Duchamp to become acquainted with modern trends in painting. Duchamp studied Fauvism, Cubism, and Impressionism, and was captivated by new approaches to color and structure. He related above all to the Cubist notion of reordering reality, rather than simply representing it. His early paintings, such as Nude Descending A Staircase (1912), illustrate Duchamp's interest in machinery and its connection to the body's movement through space, implicit in early Modernism. However, Duchamp was most attracted to avant-garde notions of the artist as an anti-academic, and felt an affinity in this respect with one of his early heroes, the Symbolist painter and graphic artist, Odilon Redon. Early in his career, Duchamp developed a taste for the mysterious allure of Symbolist subject matter, such as the woman as elusive femme fatale. This deep-seated interest in the themes and exploration of sexual identity and desire would lead Duchamp toward Dadaism and Surrealism.

Mature Period

Marcel Duchamp Image

In 1911, the twenty-five-year-old Marcel Duchamp met Francis Picabia, and the following year attended a theater adaptation of Raymond Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique with Picabia and Guillaume Apollinaire. This experience, and Roussel's inventive plots and puns in particular, made a deep impression on Duchamp. He noted that, for the first time, he "felt that as a painter it was much better to be influenced by a writer than by another painter." This interest in cross-genre pollination would become one of the underlying ideas of Dada, as would his outright rejection of a conventional artistic path.

Duchamp devoted seven years - 1915 to 1923 - to planning and executing one of his two major works, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass. This installation of machinery wedged between glass panels was Duchamp's first "aesthetic manifesto," marking his rejection of outmoded painterly obsessions with pleasing the eye (in a theory he called the "Retinal Shudder"). His series of readymades also sought to redefine art, or at least to question what art was. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass thematically investigated eroticism and desire, which was typical of Duchamp's oeuvre. The work served as a gateway to his later found-object sculptures and facsimile publications.

Later Years

Marcel Duchamp Image

In 1915, Duchamp immigrated to New York, and while finishing his Bride, conceived and manufactured several readymades. By signing them, Duchamp laid claim to found objects, such as a snow shovel, a urinal, or bicycle wheels. These objects, tied symbolically to themes of desire, eroticism and childhood memory, were designed to show the absurdity of canonizing avant-garde art practice. As Surrealism became popular in France, Duchamp traveled between New York and Paris, participating in printed textual projects, sculptural installations, and collaborations in all mediums with Dadaists and Surrealists. As of 1920, Duchamp adopted an alternate female persona, Rrose Selavy, to fully explore ideas of sexual identity. He continued to make readymades and exhibited his famous Bottle Rack series - an edition of eight bottle racks signed by Duchamp - in 1936. Wary of sensationalism following the Bottle Rack display, Duchamp secluded himself and befriended a tight-knit group of artists, including Man Ray, who photographed Duchamp many times throughout his life. For over twenty years, Duchamp labored in complete secrecy at his second masterwork, Etant donnes, an elaborate, sexualized diorama (the work is currently permanently installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). He shunned the public eye, preferring instead to play chess with select guests until his death in 1968.

Legacy

Marcel Duchamp Portrait

After he withdrew from the art world, Duchamp remained a passive, if influential, presence in New York avant-garde circles until he was rediscovered in the 1950s by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Duchamp's insistence that art should be an expression of the mind rather than the eye or the hand spoke to Minimalists and Conceptual artists alike. It ushered in a new era summed up by Joseph Kosuth's claim that "all art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually." The seminal concept of the mass-produced readymade was eagerly seized upon not only by Andy Warhol and other Pop artists who claimed Duchamp as their founding father but also, owing to its performative aspects, by Fluxus, Arte Povera and Performance artists. Duchamp's radical critique of art institutions made him a cult figure for generations of artists who, like him, refused to go down the path of a conventional, commercial artistic career. Though his work was admired for its wide-ranging use of artistic materials and mediums, it is the theoretical thrust of Duchamp's eclectic but relatively limited output that accounts for his growing impact on successive waves of twentieth-century avant-garde movements and individual artists who openly acknowledged his influence.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Marcel Duchamp
Interactive chart with Marcel Duchamp's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Alfred Jarry
Edouard Manet
Henri Matisse
Pablo Picasso
Georges Braque

Friends

André Breton
Max Ernst
Man Ray
Guillaume Apollinaire
Francis Picabia

Movements

Impressionism
Fauvism
Cubism
Futurism
Symbolism
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Years Worked: 1902 - 1968

Artists

Andy Warhol
Jasper Johns
Robert Rauschenberg
Jeff Koons
Damien Hirst

Friends

André Breton
Peggy Guggenheim
John Cage
Clement Greenberg

Movements

Dada
Surrealism
Pop Art
Installation Art
Conceptual Art

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Useful Resources on Marcel Duchamp

Special Features
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Defining Modern Art

Take a look at the big picture of modern art, and Duchamp's role in it.

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Dialogues With Marcel Duchamp

By Pierre Cabanne

The Duchamp Effect

By Martha Buskirk, Mignon Nixon

Marcel Duchamp: Works, Writings, Inteviews

By Gloria Moure, Marcel Duchamp

Duchamp: A Biography

By Calvin Tomkins

Anything Goes

By Matthew Collings
Time Magazine
February 27, 2008

Precision Optics/Optical Illusions

By Michael Betancourt
Tout-Fait
April, 2003

Face Value

By Blane Gopnik
Washington Post
April 7, 2009

Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp..in Resonance

By Bruce Hainley
Artforum
Summer, 1999

Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labeled as "wild beasts", Fauve artists favored vibrant colors and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
ArtStory: Fauvism
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist artist whose paintings, prints, and pastel works frequently include elements like cyclopses, centaurs, and abstract floral designs in atmospheric settings.
Odilon Redon
Man Ray
Man Ray
Man Ray
Man Ray was an American artist in Paris whose photograms, objects, drawings, and other works played an important role in Dada, Surrealism, modern photography, and avant-garde art at large.
ArtStory: Man Ray
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
ArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
ArtStory: Jasper Johns
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth is an American conceptual artist, philosopher and essayist. His most celebrated work is One and Three Chairs (1965), which doubles as a piece of commentary on Plato's Theory of Forms. He is likewise well-known for his 1969 essay "Art after Philosophy," considered a key text of postmodern art writing.
ArtStory: Joseph Kosuth
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist best known for his prints and paintings of consumer goods, celebrities, and photographed disasters. One of the most famous and influential artists of the 1960s, he pioneered compositions and techniques that emphasized repetition and the mechanization of art.
ArtStory: Andy Warhol
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus was an international network of "intermedia" artists of the 1960s who worked in fields ranging from music to performance to the visual arts. Taking their name from the Latin "to flow," Fluxus artists adopted an often anarchic and satirical approach to conventional forms of art, and their ideas paved the way for Conceptual art.
ArtStory: Fluxus
Arte Povera
Arte Povera
Arte Povera
Arte Povera - "poor art" or "impoverished art" - was the most influential European avant-garde of the 1960s. It numbered around a dozen Italian artists who often used commonplace materials that evoked a pre-industrial age - earth, rocks, clothing, paper and rope. The artists rejected abstract painting, and the references to modernity and technology in American Minimalism, and instead made sculpture which pointed to the past, and to experiences of locality.
ArtStory: Arte Povera
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
ArtStory: Performance Art
Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry
Alfred Jarry was a French writer whose play Ubu Roi, shocking for its absurdity and vulgarity when it debuted in 1896, was an inspiration to the later Surrealist movement.
Alfred Jarry
Edouard Manet
Edouard Manet
Edouard Manet
Edouard Manet was a French painter and a prominent figure in the mid-nineteenth-century Realist movement of French art. Manet's paintings are considered among the first works of art in the modern era, due to his rough painting style and absence of idealism in his figures. Manet was a close friend of and major influence on younger artists who founded Impressionism such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
ArtStory: Edouard Manet
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
ArtStory: Georges Braque
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton, author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, was an influential theorizer of both Dada and Surrealism. Born in France, he emigrated to New York during World War II, where he greatly influenced the Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: André Breton
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German Dadaist and Surrealist whose paintings and collages combine dream-like realism, automatic techniques, and eerie subject matter.
ArtStory: Max Ernst
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire was a French writer and art critic who in the early twentieth century was a member of the avant-garde group of artists based in the Montparnasse community of Paris, which included Picasso, André Breton and Henri Rousseau. He is credited with coining the term "Surrealism."
Guillaume Apollinaire
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia was a French artist who worked in Dada, Surrealist, and abstract modes, often employing language and mechanical imagery. He published the Dada journal 391 in Barcelona and America.
ArtStory: Francis Picabia
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
ArtStory: Symbolism
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is an American sculptor, painter and Neo-Pop artist, best known for mirror-finished stainless steel constructions of animals and everyday objects. Koons' works are often large public installations, in which viewers are invited to interact with his art.
Jeff Koons
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst is a British installation and conceptual artist, and in the 1980s was a founding member of the Young British Artists (YBAs). His best known work is Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), comprised of a dead tiger shark suspended in a vitrine of formaldehyde.
Damien Hirst
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim, the neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim, was a collector, patron, and eclectic personality deeply connected to modern art. She gave important exhibitions to many Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist artists at her Art of This Century gallery in New York in the 1940s.
ArtStory: Peggy Guggenheim
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage was an American composer and conceptual artist who incorporated chance, silence, and environmental effects into his performances. An important art theorist, he influenced choreographers, musicians, and the Fluxus artists of the 1970s.
ArtStory: John Cage
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the twentieth century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Hans Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
Installation Art