Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a French-American painter, sculptor, chess player, and writer. He stirred controversy and influence and had a major impact on the development of conceptual art.
Marcel Duchamp with his Roue de bicyclette (Bicycle Wheel), one of his Ready Made works of art.
Duchamp, who is generally perceived as “the artist who killed painting”, became famous for his new art concept of the ‘ready-made’, exemplified by such art works at Roue de bicyclette (shown above). By displacing a commonplace item from its functional context and designating it as art, Duchamp emphasized its pervasiveness and makes a social comment at the same time.
His art work L.H.O.O.Q. the objet trouvé (“found object”) is a cheap postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” onto which Duchamp drew a mustache and beard in pencil and changed the title. The name of the piece is a pun; the letters pronounced in French sound like “Elle a chaud au cul”… translation: “She is hot in the arse”.
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q, 1919. Private collection. © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris 2014.
He Enjoyed Poking Fun at Mass Production
Duchamp is known for his nonsense and humorous approach to creating art. Although he began his experiments in the beginnings of an industrialized world, his method of poking fun at the disposable, mass-produced nature of society is just as relevant now as it ever was.
The painting below titled “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2”, depicts the mechanistic motion of a nude, with superimposed facets, similar to motion pictures. It shows elements of both the fragmentation and synthesis of the Cubists, and the movement and dynamism of the Futurists. About this painting Duchamp wrote, “I wanted to create a static image of movement: movement is an abstraction, a deduction articulated within the painting, without our knowing if a real person is or isn’t descending an equally real staircase.”
Marcel Duchamp, Nu descendant l’escalier n°2. Oil on canvas, 146 x 89 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950. © 2014 Photo The Philadelphia Museum of Art / ArtResource / Scala, Florence. © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris 2014.
This was Duchamp’s first painting to provoke the most controversy. It was rejected at the 1911 Salon des Indépendants by his Cubist friends and brothers, including Henri Matisse. They considered his art to be “retinal” art — intended only to please the eye. He was told to remove it before the opening.
After this incident Duchamp has been quoted as saying “I said nothing to my brothers. But I went immediately to the show and took my painting home in a taxi. It was really a turning point in my life, I can assure you. I saw that I would not be very much interested in groups after that.”
He later submitted the painting to the 1913 “Armory Show” in New York City.
Although Duchamp broke away from his contemporaries there is no doubt that he had a strong influence on American artists in Pop art including Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and many others.
A Few Quotes by Marcel Duchamp
“I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.”
“I think that art is the only form of activity through which man shows himself to be a real individual. Through it alone, he can move beyond the animal stage because art opens onto regions dominated by neither time nor space.”
“I have drawn people’s attention to the fact that art is a mirage. A mirage, just like the oasis that appears in the desert. It is very beautiful, until the moment when you die of thirst, obviously. But we do not die of thirst in the field of art. The mirage has substance.”
“The individual, man as a man, man as a brain, if you like, interests me more than what he makes, because I’ve noticed that most artists only repeat themselves.”
“Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase.”