These Artists Create Microcosms with Suitcase as Art

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December 11, 2016

When Marcel Duchamp said that everything important he has ever done "can be put into a little suitcase", he was partly referring to Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise) his suitcase art masterpiece and partly to the inherent ability of these objects to compress our entire lives in small rectangular space. Throughout the ages, suitcases proved quite inspiring for artists of all genres and sensibilities partly due to their availability, but mostly due to their powerful and versatile symbolic effect. Suitcases often suggest travel whether as an act of pleasure or as a necessity. On one side we have suitcase art pieces that represent hedonistic, nomadic lifestyle of its owners, like those made by Bruce Conner and Marcel Dzama, on the other, there are cases that evoke the forcible movement of refugees and victims of human trafficking. Apart from symbolizing travel, cases can also store a variety of objects. Artists like Claes Oldenbur and Marcel Duchamp proved that cases can act as a perfect storage for miniature or unfinished are pieces. On the other hand several cases brought together as luggage can evoke an urge for relaxing and unpacking. They can symbolize the human need to get rid of the emotional baggage we all carry on our shoulders. Finally, these transportable objects can host a microcosms of their own composed of items that evoke either times past or distant planets.

From spiritual artworks and playful installations to eerie depictions of migration these suitcase art pieces will change the way you feel about luggage

Marcel Duchamp - Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), 1948

Marcel Duchamp is considered the founding father of suitcase art since the celebrated artist was the first one to create and exhibit an actual valise as an art piece. His 1948 artwork entitled Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), contained over 70 of his finest works including Nude Descending A Staircase, L.H.O.O.Q., The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, and a miniature version of his famous Fountain. Apart form its artistic significance the artwork had a profound personal meaning for the artist who spent his life traveling from Paris, to New York, and Buenos Aires, and back to Paris, before he finally settled in the Big Apple.

<>h6Featured image : Marcel Duchamp -  Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), 1948

Zoe Leonard - 1961, 2002

An ongoing art project by Zoe Leonard is composed of an array of suitcases that represent a year in the life of the artist. Every year she adds another suitcase to the artwork packed with memories and nostalgia. Stacked together, the suitcases represent a unique threedimensional self-portrait of the artist but also reference her personal history. Zoe Leonard is a child of refugees that moved around from Poland to Italy and finally to the US so she quite familiar with the hardships the migrants have to go trough on their way to safety and the accompanying feeling of displacement.

Featured image : Zoe Leonard - 1961, 2002 via

Stefan Zoellner - Vine of the Dead, 2014

Stefan Zoellner’s Mobilmachung series that was exhibited at this year's ART.FAIR Cologne is entirely composed of suitcases filled with a variety of unusual objects. The suitcases are packed with an array of medieval and occult items such as potions, and swords but also contain medical equipment and accessories. Mysterious and alluring, every suitcase stimulates the viewers to envision a life story of its owners.

Featured image : Stefan Zoellner - Vine of the dead, 2014 via

Claes Oldenburg - London Knees, 1966

The artist known for exploring the relationship between commerce and art, Claes Oldenburg placed a set of his miniature sculptures and an array of prints into a small suitcase much like the one a sales person would wear. Packed inside was a set of polyurethane sculptures representing female knees. Claes Oldenburg got an idea for his knees sculptures from the swinging sixties trend of wearing mini skirts with go-go boots. He originally planed to create an array of gigantic knee sculptures that would be located throughout London, but eventually settled for placing them inside of a valise.

Featured image : Claes Oldenburg - London Knees, 1966 via

Bruce Conner - Suitcase, 1961-63

Suitcase art made by Bruce Conner explores the functionality and purpose of everyday object. He created a suitcase that is deprived of its mobility and turned a useful item into a unusable stationary object. Covered in cloth, leather and sealed with wax from candles that were lit on top of it, the object appears as an abandoned traveling luggage that once belonged to a spiritual nomad.

Featured image : Bruce Conner, Suitcase, 1961–63 via

Robert Gober - Untitled, 1997

Robert Gober's monochromatic Untitled artwork retains a feeling of privacy normally associated with luggage. But once viewers look into the suitcase they will discover a small oases hidden inside. The piece contains a drain, a small puddle of water and two pairs of legs (a man's and a child's) that are relaxing in the pool. By placing this holiday scene inside of a black case, the artist powerfully depicts the human need to take a break from stressful daily activities.

Featured image : Robert Gober - Untitled, Photo by Thomas Griesel. © The Museum of Modern Art.

Marcel Dzama - Untitled (Suitcase With Three Heads), 2007

Artist Marcel Dzama often used suitcases to store his intricate sculptural pieces. His valises were usually packed with masks, costumes and other theatrical props. This particular artwork created in 2007 appears as if it belongs to a traveling entertainer since it contains handmade plaster masks and puppets that only a performer would store with such care.

Featured image : Marcel Dzama, Untitled (Suitcase With Three Heads), 2007

John Wesley - Suitcase, 1964-65

Pop art painter John Wesley embellished the exterior of several leather-wrapped suitcases with an image of a bend nude female, one of his trademark motifs often used in his oil paintings as well. The artwork that deals with the consumerism of travels spans over all four sides of the suitcase and portrays the main subject from various perspectives.The suitcase was embellished in the painters recognizable flat, graphic style, with appreciation for comics book and advertising motifs.

Featured image : John Wesley - Suitcase, 1964-65, via

Mona Hatoum - Traffic, 2002

Artist Mona Hatoum had a difficult childhood. Being a Palestinian native born in Beirut she was one of the many who were denied the Lebanon citizenship based on their origin. Her Traffic installation is one in the series of artworks that deal with the theme of dislocation and exile. The artwork that encompasses two suitcases connected by human hair appears almost as a tombstone for the person that carried them. By evoking the presence of a human that suddenly disappeared this suitcase art piece also references the sinister topic of human trafficking.

Featured image : Mona-Hatoum - Traffic II, 2002, via hadasmaorcom

Dieter Roth - Staple Cheese (A Race), 1970

Unlike many of his colleagues who packed their luggage with an array of miniature artworks, artist Dieter Roth stuffed his suitcases with a variety of unpacked cheese blocks. These cases were briefly exhibited at Eugenia Butler Gallery in Los Angeles where each day a new suitcase was opened thus surprising the audience and spreading the characteristic smell throughout the venue. Staple Cheese suitcase artworks quickly attracted an abundance of maggots forcing the authorities to shut down the exhibition due to health risks.

Dieter Roth - Staple Cheese (A Race), 1970 via okpost.tumblr

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