Marcel Duchamp

Painter. Born July 28, 1887 in Blainville, France, the son of a notary of Rouen. One of Marcel’s brothers, Gaston, known as Jacques Villon, was a painter; another brother, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, was a sculptor. Duchamp moved to Paris at the age of 17 and began to paint. By 1911 he was responding in his painting to cubism, but his subjects were unusually personal and psychologically complex compared to the typical cubist ones.
In his famous Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) Duchamp used a limited cubist palette and faceting of forms but completely contradicted the cubist esthetic in his choice of an ironic title and stress on actual movement. When this painting was exhibited at the Armory Show in New York City in 1913, it created an uproar and was the focal point for derogatory criticism of the show (one critic described the work as “an explosion in a shingle factory”).
In 1912-1913 a radical change took place in both Duchamp’s life and art. Together with the writer Guillaume Apollinaire and the painter Francis Picabia, he began working out a highly original and mocking concept of art. Duchamp sought out methods of making art in which the artist’s hand would not be stressed (using chance and mechanical methods of drawing and painting). Increasingly language and the nonvisual side of art became important to him. As he later said: “I am interested in ideas–not merely the visual products. I want to put painting once again to the service of the mind.”
In 1913 Duchamp created hisfirst “ready-made,” the Bicycle Wheel. This was thefirst of a limited number of everyday objects that Duchamp chose (sometimes making minor additions), rather than made by hand. In these he questioned conventional ideas about the artist’s role in the creation of art and about original and unique artistic products, and he brought up issues as to the value of art, the market, and the art gallery. In the next few years he turned out a small number…


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