19.11.08 - Duchamp - Press kit

Marcel Duchamp - Life and work


Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was born July 28, 1887, near Blainville, France. In 1904, he joined his artist brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, in Paris, where he studied painting at the Académie Julian until 1905. Duchamp’s early works were Post-Impressionist in style. He exhibited for the first time in 1909 at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne in Paris. His paintings of 1911 were directly related to Cubism but emphasized successive images of a single body in motion. In 1912, he painted the definitive version of Nude Descending a Staircase; this was shown at the Salon de la Section d’Or of that same year and subsequently created great controversy at the Armory Show in New York in 1913. 

Duchamp’s radical and iconoclastic ideas predated the founding of the Dada movement in Zurich in 1916. By 1913, he had abandoned traditional painting and drawing for various experimental forms, including mechanical drawings, studies, and notations that would be incorporated in a major work, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23; also known as The Large Glass). In 1914, Duchamp introduced his readymades—common objects, sometimes altered, presented as works of art—which had a revolutionary impact upon many painters and sculptors. In 1915, Duchamp traveled to New York, where his circle included Katherine Dreier and Man Ray, with whom he founded the Société Anonyme in 1920, as well as Louise and Walter Arensberg, Francis Picabia, and other avant-garde figures. 

After playing chess avidly for nine months in Buenos Aires, Duchamp returned to France in the summer of 1919 and associated with the Dada group in Paris. In New York in 1920, he made his first motor-driven constructions and invented Rrose Sélavy, his feminine alter ego. Duchamp moved back to Paris in 1923 and seemed to have abandoned art for chess but in fact continued his artistic experiments. From the mid-1930s, he collaborated with the Surrealists and participated in their exhibitions. Duchamp settled permanently in New York in 1942 and became a United States citizen in 1955. During the 1940s, he associated and exhibited with the Surrealist émigrés in New York, and in 1946 began Etant donnés: 1. la chute d’eau 2. le gaz d’éclairage, a major assemblage on which he worked secretly for the next 20 years.

He died October 2, 1968, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Source: Guggenheim Collection 



Life and Work

The following extracts belong to the chapter Life and Work, by Hugo Petruschansky, in collaboration with Cecilia Iida and Clelia Taricco, from the Catalogue of the Marcel Duchamp exhibition: A Work That is Not a Work ‘of Art’, FUNDACIÓN PROA, Buenos Aires, 2008. In late 1912, Duchamp observes an airplane displayed in the Salon de la Lo comotion Aérienne in ecstasy, and says to his friend, sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957): “Painting is over. Who could make anything better than this propeller? Tell me, could you make something like this?” The anecdote is a revealing one: the artist was beginning to give form to a personal, controversial conception of art. Years later he would say, “I wanted to distance myself from the physical aspect of painting . . . to adopt an intellectual stance with respect to every artist’s servitude to manual craft.” Duchamp decides to find a regular job and, thanks to Picabia’s intervention, he finds a position as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. There he consults tomes dealing with perspective and books on Greek philosophy, on Pyrrho of Elis’ (365–275 B.C.), from whom he adopted the idea of the “beauty of indifference.” This would be the founding principle for a body of work that would generate one of the most profound revolutions in the history of contemporary art, and that with the longestlasting impact. And so in 1913 he mounts a bicycle wheel on a stool and titles it Roue de bicyclette (Bicycle Wheel), his first readymade, although Duchamp would only begin to use this term two years later. This piece is part of a group of works characterized by little or no intervention on the part of the artist in making them. They are ordinary objects, chosen by the artist based on absolute “aesthetic indifference.” As anonymous objects, without the imprint of an author, they endure a process of appropriation, de-contextualization and reinsertion into the art world, and they highlight the discrepancy between objects and the art context. Without realizing it, Duchamp was undermining the ideas that traditionally defined art, artists and their public. But at that moment, Roue de bicyclette came about as a diversion, “watching that wheel spin was very relaxing, very comforting, a sort of opening up of avenues toward things far removed from material everyday life. . . . I used to enjoy it in the same way that I enjoy contemplating the flames in a chimney.”





In 1915, Marcel Duchamp would declare, “Personally, I should say that I admire the attitude of combating the invasion with folded arms.” The freedom that he had discovered in New York would fade away three years later when the United States entered the war. His stated antimilitary stance would push him into a new exile. There are few references that might allow us to elucidate the reason that led him to choose Argentin a as his destination. Perhaps it was recalling Roussel’s theater piece Impressions d’Afrique, that had left such an impression on him in 1912, whose mad plot included Buenos Aires. It could be that he simply wanted to distance himself from the war and New York’s social circle. As he would say at the time, “I have a vague intention of staying down there for a long time . . . several years very likely—which is to say basically breaking completely with this part of the world.” He has a stay of one or two years in mind, this is certain, just as he wrote to Picabia, and he travels without concrete plans and without knowing anyone there. The enigmatic aspect of his destination is manifest in a drawing that he would send to Florine Stettheimer before leaving. In it, a dotted line traces his itinerary along the American continent. Between opposing arrows, he writes: “27 days + 2 years” and the Argentinean capital is indicated with an enormous question mark. Duchamp and Yvonne Chastel arrive in Buenos Aires aboard the Crofton Hall in September of 1918. In Buenos Aires, “There really is the scent of peace, which is wonderful to breathe, and a provincial tranquility, which allows and even forces me to work.”



(In Spanish) 


“Un readymade, es ante todo la palabra inventada para designar una obra de arte que no es tal. Dicho de otra manera, que no es hecha a mano. Hecha a mano por el artista. Es una obra de arte que se convierte en obra de arte por el hecho de que yo la declaro o el artista la declara obra de arte, sin que la mano del artista en cuestión intervenga de manera alguna en su factura. O lo que es lo mismo, es un objeto ya hecho, que uno encuentra, y generalmente es un objeto de metal… en general, más que un cuadro. 

Fuente : Changer de nom, simplement (Cambiar de nombre, simplemente), entrevista con Marcel Duchamp a la Radio- Televisión canadiense, 17 de julio de 1960, publicada en FIN, n°5, junio 2000.


La pintura

“Yo considero la pintura como un medio de expresión, y no tanto como un fin. Un medio de expresión entre tantos otros y no un fin destinado a llenar toda una vida. Así como el color no es más que otro medio de expresión y no el fin de la pintura. Dicho de otra manera, la pintura no debe ser exclusivamente visual o retiniana. Debe apelar también a nuestra materia gris, a nuestro apetito por comprender. Así que me gusta de todo: siempre he intentado evitar la estrechez de miras y ser lo más universal posible”.

Fuente : Extraits d’entretiens Duchamp, Marcel avec J.J. Sweeney, Le Nouveau Clarté, novembre 1968, en A P’ART. Vade retro pintura!, “Marcel Duchamp et la peinture”, sin fecha.


El acto creativo

[…] Millones de artistas crean; sólo unos pocos miles son discutidos o aceptados por el espectador y muchos menos aun son consagrados por la posteridad.

En última instancia, el artista puede gritar desde las alturas que es un genio, pero tendrá que esperar el veredicto del espectador para que sus declaraciones asuman un valor social y que, finalmente, la posteridad lo incluya entre las principales figuras de la Historia del Arte.

Sé que esta afirmación no será aprobada por muchos artistas que rechazan este rol mediador e insisten en la validez de sus conciencias en el acto creativo. Sin embargo, la historia del arte ha decidido consistentemente sobre las virtudes de una obra de arte mediante consideraciones completamente divorciadas de la explicaciones racionalizadas del artista.

Si el artista, como ser humano con las mejores intenciones para consigo mismo y el mundo todo, no juega ningún rol en la valoración de su propia obra, ¿cómo podría uno describir el fenómeno que impulsa al espectador a reaccionar críticamente hacia la obra de arte? En otras palabras, ¿cómo es posible esta reacción?


Fuente: Marcel Duchamp, Le processus créatif, París, Envois L’echoppe, 1987. Escritos. Duchamp du Signe. Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, S.A., 1978



El arte

P. C. — Usted ha dicho: “Un cuadro que no sorprende no vale la pena”.

M. D. — (...) En la producción de cualquier genio, pintor o artista, sólo hay cuatro o cinco cosas que cuentan verdaderamente en su vida. Todo lo demás no es más que el relleno de cada día. Por lo general esas cuatro o cinco cosas sorprendieron en el momento de aparecer (...) Les demoiselles d´Avignon o La Grande Jatte (...) Me re-fiero a la rareza, o dicho de otra forma, a lo que podría llamarse estética superior.


Buenos Aires

P. C. — En 1918 se trasladó a Buenos Aires.

M. D. — Sí, me fui para trasladarme a un país neutral. ¿Me comprende?, desde 1917 Norteamérica se encontraba en guerra, y en el fondo, yo ya había dejado Francia por carecer de militarismo. Por falta de patriotismo, si usted quiere...

P. C. — Llevándose lo que usted llamaba Sculpture de voyage...

M. D. — (...) fueron dos cosas, el pequeño (...) y también algunos objetos de caucho...


El movimiento

P. C. — Usted pasó de antiartista a proingeniero.

M. D. — Sí, en fin, ¡un ingeniero barato! (...) todo lo que hacía como ingeniero eran los motores que compraba. Lo que me preocupaba era el movimiento. Y, además, acababa de trabajar en Verre (...) al fin y al cabo se trataba de una óptica de precisión.


Las exposiciones surrealistas

“En 1938 era muy divertido. Yo tuve la idea de la cueva central con los 1200 sacos [bolsas] de carbón colgados encima de un brasero […] puertas giratorias que servían para pegar los dibujos, los objetos. El brasero situado en el centro era la única iluminación. Los cuadros no se veían. Man Ray tuvo la idea de dar a cada visitante una linterna para que mirara, si quería ver algo…”.


El observador

P. C. — Usted también ha dicho que el artista es inconsciente del auténtico significado de su obra y que el espectador siempre debe participar en una creación suplementaria interpretándola.

M. D. — (...) Creo mucho en el aspecto “médium” del artista (...) Y concedo al que la mira tanta importancia como al que lo hace (...) ¿no cree que el papel del espectador tiene importancia? (...) La posteridad es una especie de espectador (...) es el espectador póstumo.


Fuente: Pierre Cabanne, Conversaciones con Marcel Duchamp, Editorial Anagrama, Barcelona, 1974.