Marcel Duchamp

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Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon in the garden of Villon's studio, Puteaux, France, c.1913.

Marcel Duchamp (28 July 18872 October 1968) was a French artist who became an American citizen in 1955. His work and ideas had considerable influence on the development of post-World War Two Western art. His advice to modern art collectors helped shape the tastes of the Western art world.


1915 - 1925[edit]

  • Painting is over and done with. Who could do anything better than this propeller? Look, could you do that?
    • (Duchamp's remark to Brancusi, visiting the Paris Aviation Show of 1919; as quoted in Looking at Dada, eds. Sarah Ganz Blythe & Edward D. Powers - The Museum of Modern Art New York, ISBN: 087070-705-1; p. 49
  • If a straight horizontal thread one meter long falls from a height of one meter on to a horizontal plane twisting as it pleases [it] creates a new image of the unit of length.
    • Duchamps's stated premise for his art-work: '3 Standard stoppages' he made during 1913 -1914; ; as quoted in Looking at Dada, eds. Sarah Ganz Blythe & Edward D. Powers - The Museum of Modern Art New York, ISBN: 087070-705-1; p. 50
  • They say any artist paying six dollars may exhibit. Mr.Richard Mutt (= Duchamp, ed.) sent in a fountain. Without discussion this article disappeared and never was exhibited. What were the grounds for refusing Mr. Mutt’s fountain:
    1. Some contented it was immoral, vulgar.
    2. Others, it was plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbing.
    Now, Mr. Mutt’s fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bath tube is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumber’s show windows. Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made this fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that’s its useful significance disappeared under the new title (‘The Richard Mutt Case’ he made in 1917, ed.) and point of view, created a new thought for that object. As for plumbing, that is absurd. The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.
    • own comment on his artwork 'The Fountain': The Richard Mutt Case, Marcel Duchamp, 'Blind Man', New York, 1917: 5; as quoted in "Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, – a sourcebook of Artist’s writings", ed. Kristine Stiles / Peter Selz, University of California Press, London, England, 1996, p. 817

1921 - 1968[edit]

  • I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own tastes.
    • quoted by Harriet & Sidney Janis in "Marchel Duchamp: Anti-Artist" in View magazine 3/21/45; reprinted in Robert Motherwell, Dada Painters and Poets (1951)
  • Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity; to all appearances the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing.
    • 'The Creative Act', 1957, Duchamp’s lecture in Houston, April 1957, in Art News, 56. no. 4, Summer 1957, p. 28 –29
  • In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn. A few months later I bought a cheap reproduction of a winter evening landscape, which I called ‘Pharmacy’ after assign two small dots, one red and one yellow, in the horizon. In New York in 1915 I bought at a hardware store an snow shovel on which I wrote 'In advance of the broken arm'. It was around that time that the word ‘Readymade’ came to mind to designate this form of manifestation.
    • 'Apropos of Ready Mades, 1961', Duchamp’s lecture at the MOMA museum, New York, 109 October 1961; in Art and Artists 1, July 1966: 47
  • I wanted to kill art for myself.. ..a new thought for that object.
    • 'Marcel Duchamps 1887 – 1968'’, Artforum 7 no. 3, November 1968, p. 6
  • the idea of movement.. ..just transferred from the Nude [Descending a Staircase - Duchamp painted in 1912] into a bicycle wheel [his ready-made from 19
    • Duchamp, looking back shortly before his death in 1968; as quoted in Looking at Dada, eds. Sarah Ganz Blythe & Edward D. Powers - The Museum of Modern Art New York, ISBN: 087070-705-1; p. 41
  • The spectator experiences the phenomenon of transmutation; through the change from inert matter into a work of art, an actual transubstantiation has taken place… …All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work into contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.
    • "The Writings of Marcel Duchamp (Marchand du Sel)" e.d. Michel Sanouille and Elmer Peterson, New York 1973, pp. 139-140

About Duchamp[edit]

"Duchamp did not select just any ready-made object to display. In selecting the urinal, his message was clear: Art is something you piss on." Stephen Hicks
  • Marcel Duchamp's silence is overrated
    • (Originally German: Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertet)
    • Poster by Joseph Beuys, 1964
  • - In discussing his work [Marcel Duchamp], it is necessary to avoid overrating his silence. I hold him in a very high esteem, but I have to reject his silence. Duchamp was simply finished. He had run out of ideas; he was unable to come up with anything important.. ..I would say that even the bourgeois tendencies in Duchamp’s work – i.e., a form of provocative, bohemian behavior intended to 'épater le bourgeois'- follow the same path. Duchamp started out from here and wanted to shock the bourgeoisie, and because of that he destroyed his creative powers.. ..The content of Duchamp’s silence refers to the aim of leaving the subconscious passive, of developing it. This is the aspect of Duchamp, which is related to Surrealism. The surrealists asserted that they could live with their subconscious; they thought they were above reality, but instead they were beneath it. They thought they could fish in muddy waters.. ..but to my mind, the images which emerged have a repressive effect.
    • Joseph Beuys statement on the 'Silence of Marcel Duchamp', in 'Death keeps me awake', interview with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1986; as quoted in “Energy Plan for the Western man”, by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, pp. 169-170
  • I just like - just breathing. I like breathing better than working.
    • spoken by the character "Marcel Duchamp" in The Mysteries and What's So Funny (play, 1992) by David Gordon
  • Asked to submit something for display by the Society of Independent Artists in New York [in 1917], Duchamp sent a urinal. Duchamp of course knew the history of art. He knew what had been achieved—how over the centuries art had been a powerful vehicle that called upon the highest development of the human creative vision and demanded exacting technical skill; and he knew that art had an awesome power to exalt the senses, the intellects, and the passions of those who experience it. Duchamp reflected on the history of art and decided to make a statement. The artist is a not great creator—Duchamp went shopping at a plumbing store. The artwork is not a special object—it was mass-produced in a factory. The experience of art is not exciting and ennobling—at best it is puzzling and mostly leaves one with a sense of distaste. But over and above that, Duchamp did not select just any ready-made object to display. In selecting the urinal, his message was clear: Art is something you piss on.
    • Stephen Hicks (2004). Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault Tempe AZ: Scholargy Press, p. 196
  • The Duchamp thing is played both ways. The ‘Urinal’ (a famous 'readymade' art-work of Marcel Duchamp) signed R. Mutt, is played as an art object, and then as the opposite of a legitimate art object. And it vacillates back and forth. Well perhaps that is a nice thing, but I don’t know. I find Duchampianism a bore. It’s very adolescent. I was very much excited by it when I was a teenager.. ..My tradition is quite different. My conscious tradition is through Constantin Brâncuși, and Brancusi just strikes me as an infinitely wiser and infinitely more talented, an infinitely stronger figure than Duchamp. I think I could have done my work if Duchamp had not lived. I could not have done my work if Brancusi had not lived.
    • Carl Andre, as quoted in 'Artists talks 1969 – 1977', ed. Peggy Gale, The Press N.S.C.A.D, Nova Scotia, Canada 2004, pp. 15-16

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