A French-American painter, sculptor, chess player and writer whose work has been associated with Dadaism and many other avant-garde movements, Marcel Duchamp is commonly considered as one of the artists who helped define the revolutionary developments in plastic arts in the opening decades of the twentieth century and as being responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. His work has changed the course of art history greatly, and his concepts have shaken the art world with the shock waves being felt still. Although certain aspects of his work are closely associated with Surrealism, he refused to be categorized within any artistic movement per se.
While studying art at the Académie Julian, he often drew cartoons reflecting his tongue-in-cheek wit and subversive sense of humor. He often included visual or verbal puns rife with sexual connotations that remained to characterize his work for the rest of his life. This linguistic component of his work is one of the contributions that paved the way for Conceptual Art. He experimented with classical techniques and subjects, and his early works aligned with Post-Impressionism and later Cubism and Futurism. He has renounced painting altogether in 1913 and rejected the work of many of his fellow artists as ‘retinal’ art. He argued that art should not only please the mind, in favor of more intellectual, concept-driven approaches to art-making and viewing. This idea that art should be driven by ideas has proposed him as the father of Conceptual Art.
Questioning the very notion of art and what constitutes it, Duchamp introduced the concept of a ‘readymade’. The term coined by Duchamp himself designated everyday objects that were taken from their usual concept and presented as a work of art. This status of artworks was gained by the mere choice of the artist. This performative act has had radical implication on the idea of art.
Throughout his career, he has refused to follow a typical artistic path, and ultimately, he has withdrawn from the art world completely. Still, his ideas about art and his radical critique of art institutions have made him a cult figure and a great influence for various artists involved in different movements from Conceptual Art and Minimalism to Fluxus, Pop-Art and Performance Art. Aside from his eclectic and diverse body of work, he is much admired for his theoretical contributions to art.
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In 1964, the writer Calvin Tomkins spent a number of afternoons interviewing infamous artists Marcel Duchamp in his apartment in New York. In a causal but poignant way, Marcel Duchamp reveals himself as a man and an artist, showing his playful principles of living that has contributed to his art being unpredictable, complex and surprising. Comprised into a single volume, The Afternoon Interviews include an introductory interview with the writer itself who reflected his time spent with Duchamp and him as an artist, mentor and friend. Through these conversations, Tomkins has managed to reintroduce the reader to key ideas of Duchamp’s world and present him as a still vital model for many generations of artists.
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The main link between art and chess for Marcel Duchamp is that he perceived both as types of free mental activity that required intellectual precision and rigor. Thus, the game of chess was a perfect metaphor for artistic activity. It is believed the Chessboard piece was created while he was working in the studio in New York, anticipating a set of 30 chessboards he has executed in 1966 in order to give funds to the Marcel Duchamp Fund of the American Chess Foundation. This piece was sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2002 for $492,630.
2 Nus: Un Fort Et Un Vite (Two nudes: one strong and one swift), 1912
The drawing 2 Nus : Un Fort Et Un Vite (Two nudes: one strong and one swift) from 1912 is a piece of historical importance. Announcing the major revolution of figurative art that Duchamp first initiated with his readymade objects, this piece encompasses several elements that he uses again in his great work La Mariée mise à nu par ses Célibataires, même (Le Grand Verre). This piece was sold at Sotheby’s Paris in Decembre 2011 for $596,410.
Produced for the poetic essay on Duchamp by a French as a work that could be produced in small edition, the piece entitled L.H.O.O.Q is now-famous pun he had inscribed on a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa 45 years earlier. After purchasing 38 color reproductions of the painting, he drew in pencil a mustache and goatee on the face of La Joconde and added a funny phonetic pun in lower margin. Interpreted as the work that relates to his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, as well as da Vinci’s homosexuality, this piece is considered as one of the most succinct expressions of DADA negation, an ultimate gesture of iconoclasm. This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in May 1999 for 607,500.
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Study for Chess Players (Etude pour les joueurs d'echecs), 1911
In 1911, Marcel Duchamp was still following the conventions of formal compositions and narrative structure. He has moved through various styles of Modernist painting at the time before renouncing it altogether in 1913. During 1911, he has created a series of six drawings and two Cubist paintings. The Study for Chess Players (Etude pour les joueurs d’echecs) is produced on a lined stationary from Hotel Lutetia in Paris and it is showing the profiles of two players immersed in the game of chess. Chess pieces all floating around suggesting that the space around them is purely an imagination. The piece was sold at Sotheby’s London in December 1999 for $779,500.
Monte Carlo Bond (No. 1), 1924
The piece Monte Carlo Bond (No. 1) from 1924 was the result of Duchamp’s system of wagering in roulette. Based on nearly endless throws of the dice and it was a true test of patience. In order to expand upon the principles of the system and its profits, he has increased the amounts of money wagered and intended to procure investors by issuing a bond as a legal document he had carefully designed. Featuring an overhead view of a roulette table and a photo-collaged Duchamp’s portrait by Man Ray with layers of shaving lather, this bond is humorous and deliberately tongue-in-cheek. This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in November 2011 for $1,082,500.
Roue de bicyclette (Bicycle wheel), 1964
Duchamp had collected manufactured objects in his studio in Paris, but when he started working in New York he started identifying them as an art category. He wanted to challenge the authorities in the art world by introducing the concept of a readymade, where everyday objects would be presented as artworks by the virtue of being selected and signed by the artist. When he modified these objects he called them ‘assisted readymades’. Duchamp recalled that the original Bicycle Wheel was created as a ‘distraction’ just to enjoy looking at it. This piece was sold at Phillips New York in May 2002 for $1,600,000.
The piece Fountain from 1917 is one of the most famous Duchamp’s pieces. A porcelain urinal turned upside down and signed ‘R.Mutt’ was submitted to the Society of Independent Artists for their first annual exhibition at The Grand Central Palace in New York. The piece was rejected by the committee, but critics championed it and argued that the urinal had new significance when selected by an artist for display. Testing the limits of what contitutes as art, Fountain turned to be one of the most influential works of the 20th century. The original work has been lost, but 17 replicas commissioned by Duchamp in the 1960s exist. It is considered as a major landmark of the 20th century art. The piece was sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 1999 for $1,600,000.
Monte Carlo Bond (No. 30), 1924
The piece Monte Carlo Bond (No. 30) from 1924 is another piece from the collection of 8 bonds as a legal document produced by Duchamp as a result of his system of wagering in roulette. This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in November 2015 for $2,405,000.
Chessboard (Echiquier), 1937
Being a passionate chess player and even contemplating a professional career in chess, the chess was the recurring subject in Duchamp’s art. He has chosen many different objects throughout his career to serve the purpose of readymade art pieces , and this chessboard was one of them. In 1937, he hung a blank wood Chessboard in his studio using it to play a ‘mental chess game’. Placed in a position where usually a painting would hang in an artist’s studio, this was a metaphor of his abandonment of painting. This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in Novemeber 2011 for $2,573,000.
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Belle Haleine - Eau De Voilette, 1921
Belle Haleine: Eau de Voilette (Beautiful Breath: Veil Water) is the work Marcel Duchamp created in 1921 with the assistance of Man Ray. Duchamp has appropriated an actual bottle of perfume by Rigaud Company of Paris showing a female model taking a deep breath with her eyes closed and head tilted back suggesting the aphrodisiac qualities of the perfume. Wanting to draw the attention to the woman depicted at the bottle, he produced a female alter ego called Rose Sélavy. Wanting to establish an entirely new artistic identity through which he could function as an artist, he has previously chosen a female Jewish name bringing Rose Sélavy to the existence and this was her first visual manifestation. This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in February 2009 for $11,406,900.