Marcel Duchamp was a French artist whose readymade works and sculptural assemblages revolutionised the very notion of art.Read More
Marcel Duchamp's most iconic artworks include the designation of a urinal as a work of art (Fountain, 1917) and doodling over a reproduction of the Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q., 1919).
Initially trained as a painter, Duchamp engaged with Impressionist and Cubist approaches to painting in his early work. Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (1912) shows a fragmented figure in motion that evokes Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque's early Analytic Cubist portraits, but differs in that Duchamp captures a series of movement rather than a stationary subject. The artist first submitted the painting to the Salon des Indépendants, who rejected it on the grounds that the work dehumanised the female nude; it similarly caused controversy when it was exhibited at the New York Armory Show in 1913.
In the early 1910s, Duchamp increasingly shifted away from what he described as 'retinal art', art that only appeals to the eye. He turned to common, mass-produced objects, calling them 'readymades'—items 'ready-made' for producing works of art—and maintained that an art object is born of declaration by the artist. Early readymades include Bicycle Wheel (1913), a now lost work that consisted of a bicycle wheel affixed to an upright stool, and Bottle Rack (1914), created by stacking common bottle racks.
Duchamp further challenged the traditional role of the artist with Bottle Rack when, in 1916, he asked his sister, the artist Suzanne Duchamp, to modify Bottle Rack according to a written instruction in a letter. Upon learning that Suzanne had already disposed of the work, Duchamp nonetheless created new versions that he deemed just as authentic as the original by virtue of his authority.
Duchamp's subversion of traditional artistic principles led him to create The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass (1915—1923), a 2.7-metre-tall sculptural work consisting of two glass panels. Between the glass panels are various metal pieces and dust that describe an encounter between a 'bride' and nine abstracted mechanical figures, which the artist envisioned as an artwork that could also be read as a text. Duchamp made numerous drawings and studies for The Large Glass, which were published alongside his notes made between 1912 and 1917 in The Green Box (1934).
A common urinal signed with the signature 'R. Mutt' and the year, Fountain (1917) is arguably the most famous of Duchamp's creations. He submitted the work to the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York under the pseudonym R. Mutt, derived from a French slang word for 'moneybags' and the New York-based porcelain urinal company J.L. Mott Iron Works. A controversy ensued over whether to include Fountain in the exhibition—it was rejected in the end—and whether it belonged within the boundaries of art, even for avantgarde artists.
Duchamp also confronted conventional ideas about beauty in art with L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), in which he drew a moustache and goatee over a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and inscribed a new title at the bottom. In French, the pronunciation of the letters in the title approximates the words 'she has a hot ass'; such irreverent appropriation was followed by controversy and precipitated the artist's association with the Dada movement.
Duchamp lived and worked between Pars and New York, settling permanently in the latter in 1942. In 1923, he announced he would leave the art world to play chess, although he continued to exhibit artwork and collaborated with the Surrealists. Duchamp began his last major work, Étant donnés (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), in 1946, which he would develop until 1966: through two eyeholes in a wooden door, the diorama shows a nude woman—actually a life-size mannequin—reclining before a mountainous landscape.
Marcel Duchamp exhibited internationally in his lifetime, with major retrospective exhibitions held at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (1963) and the Tate, London (1966).
More recent solo exhibitions include Please Touch: Marcel Duchamp and the Fetish, Thaddeus Ropac, London (2021); Hanging for 20 years of the Prix Marcel Duchamp 2020, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2020); Marcel Duchamp: The Barbara and Aaron Levine Collection, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2019); MARCEL DUCHAMP: Das Unmögliche sehen, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (2019); Curatorial Studies 12: The 100th Anniversary of Duchamp's Fountain, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (2017); and The Duchamp Effect, Seattle Art Museum (2015).
Selected group exhibitions include Surrealist Art: Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (2021); The Sylvio Perlstein Collection: A Luta Continua, Hauser & Wirth, Hong Kong (2019); MATTA | DUCHAMP, Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich (2019); and Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art, David Zwirner, New York (2018).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021