Renowned Art
Marcel Duchamp



Marcel Duchamp (July 28, 1887 - October 2, 1968) was a French/American artist. His work has had a considerable influence on the development of post-war art in Europe and North America, in particular Pop Art and Conceptual Art.

Born Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp in Blainville-Crevon Seine-Maritime in the Haute-Normandie Region of France, he came from an artistic family. Of the six children of Eugene and Lucie Duchamp, four would become successful artists. Marcel Duchamp was the brother of:

  • Jacques Villon (1875-1963), painter, printmaker
  • Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), sculptor
  • Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti (1889-1963), painter

Living and working in a studio in Montparnasse, Marcel Duchamp's early works were Post-Impressionist in style but he would become perhaps the most influential of the Dada artists. A student at the Académie Julian, his influence is still strongly felt to this day by contemporary artists.

At his eldest brother Jacques' home, in 1911 Marcel and brother Raymond organized a regular discussion group with artists and critics such as Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger and others that soon was dubbed the Puteaux Group.

In early years, Duchamp had some contact with the Salon Cubists of Paris, but aesthetic as well as political differences precluded closer affiliation. In 1912, he painted Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, in which motion was expressed by successive superimposed images, as in motion pictures. The work was originally slated to appear in Paris, but the Salon Cubists demanded that Duchamp retitle it to avoid possible scandal. Duchamp removed the work from the exhibition entirely, and, in 1913, it went on to create a scandal at the Armory Show in New York City instead; it also spawned dozens of parodies in the years that followed. It was at that show that he met the Dadaist painter Jean Crotti who later married his sister Suzanne.

Politically, Duchamp opposed World War I and identified with Individualist Anarchism, in particular with Max Stirner's philosophical tract The Ego and Its Own, the study of which Duchamp considered the turning point in his artistic and intellectual development.

Duchamp was one of the first artists to use found objects, readymades, as the basis for his artworks. His work "Fountain" consisted mostly of a ceramic urinal. His work "In advance of a broken arm" consisted of an old snow shovel. Another displayed a bicycle wheel.

Escaping service in the First World War on the pretext of a dubious heart condition, he travelled to the United States, where he befriended Katherine Dreier and Man Ray, with whom he founded the Société Anonyme in 1920. Duchamp's circle also included Louise and Walter Arensberg, Beatrice Wood and fellow Frenchman, Francis Picabia, as well as other avant-garde figures.

Marcel Duchamp took aim at conventional notions of "high art," "culture" and commodities by presenting mass-produced objects such as a bottle rack or a snow shovel as sculpture. He coupled his visual assaults on "art" with verbal puns: he signed his urinal "R. Mutt," or "armut," German for poverty, and named another piece "L.H.O.O.Q.," a coarse French pun (When pronounced in French, it means "She's got a hot ass"). When the Jury at the 1917 Independents exhibition in New York rejected his urinal as not being art, Beatrice Wood defended him: "The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges."

Recent research by art historian Rhonda Roland Shearer indicates that Duchamp's supposedly 'found' objects may actually have been created by Duchamp. Exhaustive research of items like snow shovels and bottle racks in use at the time has failed to turn up any identical matches. The urinal, upon close inspection, is non-functional. The artwork "L.H.O.O.Q." which is supposedly a poster-copy of the Mona Lisa with a mustache drawn on it, turns out to be not the true Mona Lisa, but Duchamp's own slightly-different version that he modelled partly after himself. If Shearer's findings are correct then Duchamp was creating an even larger joke than he admitted.

After 1923 he devoted much of his time to chess but from the mid-1930s onwards he collaborated with the Surrealists and participated in their exhibitions. Duchamp settled permanently in New York in 1942. From then until 1944, together with Max Ernst and André Breton, he edited the surrealist periodical "VVV", in New York.

The last surviving member of the Duchamp family of artists, in 1967, in Rouen, France, Marcel helped organize an exhibition called "Les Duchamp: Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Duchamp." Some of this family exhibition was later shown at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.

In December 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 of the most powerful people in the British art world. This is testimony to the influence of Duchamp's work, and the mark he has left on the art world.

Marcel Duchamp died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France and is buried in the Rouen Cemetery, in Rouen, Normandy, France.


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