- Born on July 28, 1887, the grandson of a painter, Marcel Duchamp had two brothers, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon and a sister, Suzanne Duchamp, who were also artists; but unlike his relatives, he turned his ironic scepticism about art into an extraordinary career built on a remarkeble small amount of work.
He went to Paris at sixteen to join his brothers and study art. From 1905 to 1910 he contributed cartoons to French papers. In 1911 he was a member of the painters' circle La Section d'Or (Léger, Metzinger, Picaba and others). Early paintings, 1910 and 1911, depict members of his family. His next paintings reflect an interest in movement, influenced by cubism and presaging the themes of the Italian Futurist work. In 1912 he painted the multi-frame 'Nu descendant un Escalier, no. 2', which became the hit at the New York Armory Show in 1913.
- Abandoning painting for three dimensional art, Duchamp offered such everyday objects as 'Roue de bicyclette' [=Bicycle Wheel] and 'Egouttoir (or Porte-bouteilles)' [=Bottle Rack] as "ready-mades". In 1915 he went to New York for the first time and became the center of the circle of painters around the 'Stieglitz' Gallery. The group adapted an "anti-art" attitude and was thus a movement parallel to European dada. During these years he worked on 'La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même' [=The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)], which is often regarded as his single most important piece.
- With courage based upon self-confidence, he submitted a urinal titled 'Fountain' and signed "R. Mutt" to the 1917 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, which he had co-founded. When the exhibition orgainzers refused to accept it, he resigned. Similarly, to a Dada exhibition in Paris in 1920 Duchamp submitted a full-color reproduction of Leonardo's 'La Gioconda' [=Mona Lisa] to which he added a beard and a mustache; he named it 'L.H.O.O.Q.' (Elle a chaud au cul). 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.
- After 1923 Duchamp returned to Paris, actually left art and devoted himself to playing chess, and then certain experiments in kineticism 'Rotary demisphere precision optics' (1925), film collaborations with Man Ray, and 'Rotoreliefs' (c. 1935).
- Returning to New York in 1942, Duchamp became a presence in his inactivity, especially at exhibitions including his early work. Yet so controversial was his art, and so generally unacceptable to the reigning authorities, that not until 1963, past his seventy-fifth year, did he have an institutional retrospective, which was not in New York or Paris, but in Pasadena. After his death October 2, 1968, in his studio a tableau was found, 'Étant données', on which he had secretly worked for many years.
- IMAGE CREDITS
banner: Marcel Duchamp [Photo Richard Avedon].
- portrait: Portrait multiple de Marcel Duchamp (Five-Way Portrait of Marcel Duchamp), Gelatin silver print, 1917. The picture was made on June 21, 1917, at the Broadway Photo Studio at the same time that Duchamp was photographed with Francis Picabia and Beatrice Wood. Collection National Portrait Gallery.