Duchamp, Marcel


Born on 28 July 1887, in Blainville, near Rouen, France. French painter, poet, experimentator in films and chess player. He is the brother of Raymond Duchamp-Villon, the sculptor, and of Suzanne Duchamp, the poetess and a half brother of Jacques Villon. In 1911 he was a member in the painters' circle known as the "Golden Section", together with La Fresnaye, Léger, Metzinger, Picabia, and others. Influenced by cubism he painted the picture "The Chess Players" and the first studies for his "Nudes descending a Staircase". In the same year he created "The Coffee-Mill", important as regards to form and the part it played in the general development. Many problems of dadaism (mechanical drawings by Picabia, Max Ernst, etc.) and of surrealism were anticipated in it. In 1912 he painted one of his main works, "Nudes descending a Staircase", shown for the first time in October of that year at the exhibition of the "Golden Section". In 1913 it was the hit of the New York "Armory Show". In 191415 he confused the public with a series of works which he called center In 1914 he put his signature to a second-rate landscape reproduction by an unknown artist after adding a green and a red patch, calling the whole work "Pharmacy". "Ready-Mades" were banal objects of every-day use such as a bottle holder, a snow-shovel, etc., which he signed with his name after giving them titles totally unconnected with their functional use. In 1915 he went to the United States for the first time and soon became the center of the circle of painters round the "Stieglitz" gallery. That group had adopted an "anti-art" attitude and was thus a movement parallel to Zurich dadaism. In 1917 Duchamp sent a "work" called "Fountain" to the New York "Independent Show", signed with the name "R. Mutt", it was nothing but a common urinal. The "Ready-Mades" demonstrated his profound contempt for the bourgeois conception of art. Their descendants were in later years the "surrealist objects". In 1917 Duchamp edited the periodicals, "The Blind Man" and "Rongwrong", which had an unmistakably dadaist character. "La vierge", "Mariée", "Passage de la vierge à la mariée", etc., pictures painted in 1912 - some on glass and others on canvas - were the points of departure for his monumental work; (painted on glass): "La mariée mise à nu par ses cèlibataires" ("The married woman stripped nude by her bachelors"), at which he worked from 1915 to 1923 and finally left unfinished, to devote himself to chess-playing and to mechanical and optical experiments (films) etc. In 1934 he published 93 facsimile drawings etc. preparatory studies to his unfinished monumental work, a fascinating insight into the structure and evolution of this unique creation. In 1920 he published, under the pen name of Rrose Sélavy (arroser, c'est la vie), puns in No. 5 of the periodical "Littérature". With the same pseudonym he still signed lesser works. Together with Katherina Dreier he founded the "Société anonyme" for the propagation of modern art in America. Preference was given to anti-traditional, cubist, futurist and dadaist works. From 1942 to 1944, together with Max Ernst and André Breton, he edited the surrealist periodical "VVV", in New York. Through the charm of his personality and his works Duchamp has exerted great influence on young American artists.
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Click here to read Duchamp's text 'Apropos of Readymades'.