Marcel Duchamp


Marcel Duchamp, b. July 28, 1887, d. Oct. 2, 1968, was a French painter and theorist, a major proponent of Dada, and one of the most influential figures of avant-garde 20th-century art. After a brief early period in which he was influenced chiefly by Paul Cezanne and Fauve color (see Fauvism), Duchamp developed a type of symbolic painting, a dynamic version of facet cubism (similar to futurism), in which the image depicted successive movements of a single body. It closely resembled the multiple-exposure photography documented in Eadweard Muybridge's book The Horse in Motion (1878).

In 1912, Duchamp painted his famous Nude Descending a Staircase, which caused a scandal at the 1913 Armory Show in New York City. In the same year he developed, with Francis Picabia and Guillaume Apollinaire, the radical and ironic ideas that independently prefigured the official founding of Dada in 1916 in Zurich. In Paris in 1914, Duchamp bought and inscribed a bottle rack, thereby producing his first ready-made, a new art form based on the principle that art does not depend on established rules or on craftsmanship. Duchamp's ready-mades are ordinary objects that are signed and titled, becoming aesthetic, rather than functional, objects simply by this change in context. Dada aimed at departure from the physical aspect of painting and emphases in ideas as the chief means of artistic expression.

In 1915, Duchamp moved to New York City, where he was befriended by Louise and Walter Arensberg and their circle of artists and poets, which constituted New York Dada. That same year he began his major work, The Large Glass, or The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23), a construction of wire and painted foil fitted between plates of transparent glass. In 1918 he completed his last major painting, Tu m', a huge oil and graphite on canvas, a unique combination of real and painted objects and illusionistic and flat space. Following his maxim never to repeat himself, Duchamp "stopped" painting (1923) after 20 works and devoted himself largely to the game of chess. Nevertheless, by 1944 he had secretly begun sketches on a new project, and between 1946 and 1949 created his last work, the Etant Donnes (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

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