The 10 Most Famous Artworks of Marcel Duchamp
This includes Fountain, Bicycle Wheel, L.H.O.O.Q., and Le grand verre...
Duchamp is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. Duchamp has had an immense impact on twentieth-century and twenty first-century art, and he had a seminal influence on the development of conceptual art.
By the time of World War I he had rejected the work of many of his fellow artists (such as Henri Matisse) as “retinal” art, intended only to please the eye. Instead, Duchamp wanted to use art to serve the mind.
niood lists the 10 Most Famous Artworks of Marcel Duchamp:
When explaining the purpose of his Readymade sculpture, Duchamp stated they are “everyday objects raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist’s act of choice.” In Duchamp’s presentation, the urinal’s orientation was altered from its usual positioning. The work is regarded by art historians and theorists of the avant-garde as a major landmark in 20th-century art.
To understand how Duchamp managed to outmanoeuvre the art world, one needs to return to the moment that the scurrilous sculpture arrived for consideration at the recently formed Society of Independent Artists in New York in spring 1917, in advance of an exhibition due to open on 10 April. As a founding member of the association, Duchamp had helped devise and articulate the organisation’s avant-garde ideology, including its commitment never to reject a work submitted by one of its members. To test the sincerity and sturdiness of those principles, Duchamp entered the urinal under an assumed artistic identity – ‘R Mutt’ – knowing full well that the provocative piece would leave his fellow players in the society scrambling for their next move.
Duchamp then watched with disappointment, if not surprise, when the question of whether to exhibit the piece was put to a vote, in hypocritical violation, he believed, of the society’s widely-publicised open-mindedness. When Fountain was rejected by fellow members on grounds of aesthetic crudity, Duchamp found his conscience suddenly cornered. Left with no other possible move, he resigned.
“In 1913,” recalled Marcel Duchamp, “I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.”1 The result, Bicycle Wheel, is the first of Duchamp’s Readymades—objects (sometimes manufactured or mass-produced) selected by the artist and designated as art. Most of Duchamp’s Readymades were individual objects that he repositioned or signed and called art, but Bicycle Wheel is what he called an “assisted Readymade,” made by combining more than one utilitarian item to form a work of art.
In L.H.O.O.Q. the found object (objet trouvé) is a cheap postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s early 16th-century painting Mona Lisa onto which Duchamp drew a moustache and beard in pencil and appended the title.
The name of the piece, L.H.O.O.Q., is a pun; the letters pronounced in French sound like “Elle a chaud au cul“, “She is hot in the arse”, or “She has a hot ass”;”avoir chaud au cul” is a vulgar expression implying that a woman has sexual restlessness. In a late interview (Schwarz 203), Duchamp gives a loose translation of L.H.O.O.Q. as “there is fire down below”.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even is also the title given to The Green Box notes (1934) as Duchamp intended the Large Glass to be accompanied by a book, in order to prevent purely visual responses to it. The notes describe that his “hilarious picture” is intended to depict the erotic encounter between the “Bride”, in the upper panel, and her nine “Bachelors” gathered timidly below in an abundance of mysterious mechanical apparatus in the lower panel.
This work is a tableau, visible only through a pair of peepholes (one for each eye) in a wooden door, of a nude woman lying on her back with her face hidden, legs spread, holding a gas lamp in the air in one hand against a landscape backdrop.
As Surrealism recast itself in the 1940s in reaction to the rise of fascism and the carnage of World War II, its protagonists increasingly turned to an interior world, such as the one seen behind the massive Spanish wooden door in Étant donnés, which separates the viewer from an unexpected and unimaginable landscape, visible only by looking through the peepholes.
The work is widely regarded as a Modernist classic and has become one of the most famous of its time.
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) peels away the traditional beauty of the nude in art, its carnality, even its identifiable sex. Instead, the painting aims to expand our perception of the human body in motion, a topic of fascination for Duchamp around this time. Though the work exemplifies his extremely original engagement with Cubism, it also precipitated his break with the Cubists. When Duchamp presented it for exhibition in Paris in 1912, fellow Cubists on the hanging committee tried to exclude it. They may have objected to the idea of painting dynamic movement, or the unfamiliar subject of a nude on a flight of stairs, or the title written in block letters at the lower margin. When the work was finally presented at the Armory Show, which made the case for modern art to large audiences in New York in 1913, it met with a hostile public reaction—and cemented Duchamp’s reputation as an artistic provocateur.
Constructed by a carpenter in accordance with Marcel Duchamp’s instructions, Fresh Widow is a small version of the double doors commonly called a French window. Duchamp was fascinated by themes of sight and perception; here, the expectation of a view through windowpanes is thwarted by opaque black leather, which Duchamp insisted “be shined everyday like shoes.”1 Windows had an important place in the artist’s work. He stated, “I used the idea of the window to take a point of departure, as…I used a brush, or I used a form, a specific form of expression…. I could have made 20 windows with a different idea in each one….”
Puns and wordplay were also central to Duchamp’s work. By changing a few letters, Duchamp transforms “French window”—which the work resembles in form—into “Fresh Widow,” a reference to the recent abundance of widows of World War I fighters.
Location: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
To make In Advance of the Broken Arm, Marcel Duchamp selected a snow shovel, hung it from the ceiling of his studio, and called it art. His Readymades—mass-produced, functional objects he designated as art—challenged many accepted assumptions and traditions, namely that art should reflect an artist’s skills, or even be handcrafted by the artist. Duchamp asserted that an artist could create simply by making choices. His Readymades also aimed at shifting viewers’ engagement with works of art from what Duchamp called the “retinal” (pleasing to the eye) to the “intellectual” (in “the service of the mind”), subverting the traditional notion that beauty is a defining characteristic of art.1
Duchamp frequently assigned humorous titles to his Readymades. In Advance of the Broken Arm refers playfully to the function of a snow shovel: to remove snow from the ground. It assumes that without the shovel to remove the snow, one might slip and fall and even break an arm.
Rose Sélavy figures allusively in this “semi-Readymade,” which consists of a small metal cage containing marble cubes and a thermometer. Duchamp explained that the thermometer was to register the coldness of the marble cubes since it is the cold that causes sneezes.
“Rrose Sélavy”, also spelled Rose Sélavy, was one of Duchamp’s pseudonyms. The name, a pun, sounds like the French phrase Eros, c’est la vie, which may be translated as “Eros, such is life.” It has also been read as arroser la vie (“to make a toast to life”). Sélavy emerged in 1921 in a series of photographs by Man Ray showing Duchamp dressed as a woman. Through the 1920s Man Ray and Duchamp collaborated on more photos of Sélavy. Duchamp later used the name as the byline on written material and signed several creations with it.
The Bottle Rack‘s primary function is, of course, to dry bottles. Duchamp may not have created this bottle rack, but he did displace it and disallow it to function. Bottle Rack never received its bottles, thus its empty phallic spikes may be seen to sexually represent the bachelor status Duchamp was interested in and explored in many of his works, including the famous Large Glass.