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Marcel Duchamp

French Painter and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Conceptual Art

Born: July 28, 1887 - Normandy, France

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

Marcel Duchamp Timeline

"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."

Marcel Duchamp Signature

Summary of Marcel Duchamp

Few artists can boast of having changed the course of art history in the way that Marcel Duchamp did. 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.

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.
<i>Five-Way Portrait</i> of Marcel Duchamp, New York City (June 21st, 1917)
Five-Way Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, New York City (June 21st, 1917)

The artistic inquiries of the highly innovative Cubists were not enough for Duchamp, he continued such early experiments throughout a life that was questioning, redefining, and unorthodox - leading to art beyond what the world thought possible.

Important Art by Marcel Duchamp Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important by Marcel Duchamp - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Nude Descending A Staircase (1912)
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Nude Descending A Staircase (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: Nude Descending A Staircase initially met with an unfavorable response at the Salon des Indépendants, dominated by the Cubist avant-garde who objected to what they deemed as its Futurist leanings, but enjoyed a succes de scandale at the 1913 Armory Show in New York. More than a study of the body's movement through space, the work is an early figurative exercise in painting cinematically, akin to Eadweard Muybridge's sequences of photographs that anticipated motion pictures. This painting together with the contemporaneous Passage from Virgin to Bride marks the end of Duchamp's short-lived career as a painter.

Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art: Collection of Louise and Walter Arenberg

3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14)
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3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14)

Artwork description & Analysis: Art takes on a scientific guise in this intricate piece whose several component parts are neatly displayed alongside or slotted into a bespoke wooden case. To make this piece, which reads like a visual demonstration of the workings of chance, Duchamp dropped three threads, each exactly one meter long, from a height of one meter. He then carefully recorded the random outline of the fallen thread on canvas, glass and wood. Chance also dictated his choice of title: Duchamp apparently hit upon stoppages, French for the "invisible mending" of a garment, after walking past a shop sign advertising sewing supplies.

Mixed media - The Museum of Modern Art

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass (1915-1923)
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The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass (1915-1923)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass was partly inspired by author Raymond Roussel's use of homophones, words that sound alike but have different meanings. Duchamp frequently resorted to puns and double-meanings in his work.With The Large Glass, he sought to make an artwork that could be both visually experienced and "read" as a text. After attending a performance of Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique, Duchamp envisioned a sculptural assemblage as a stage of sorts. Preliminary studies for this stage, which would have been over nine feet tall, included depictions of an abstracted "bride" being attacked by machine-like figures in chaotic motion. The constructed gadgetry featured between the two glass panels was also likely inspired by Duchamp's study of mathematician Henri Poincare's physics theorems.

Mixed media - Philadelphia Museum of Art

More Marcel Duchamp Artwork and Analysis:

Fountain (1917) L.H.O.O.Q (1919) Fresh Widow (1920) Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics) (1925) La Boite-en-Valise (Box in a Suitcase) (1935 - 1941) Etant donnes (1946-66) Priere de Toucher (Please Touch) (1947)

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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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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