"The individual, man as a man, man as a brain,
if you like, interests me more than what he makes, because I've noticed that most artists only repeat themselves."
Trying to figure out who Marcel Duchamp was is a tricky challenge. He called himself "an-artist, chess
player, cheese dealer, breather." He was indeed all these things and yet, so much more. His parents encouraged all
of their children to particapate in the arts, in-fact, four of the six of her children became artists. Raymond
Duchamp-Villon went into sculpture, Suzanne "Crotti" Duchamp was an artist and poet, Jacques Villon became a painter, and then the was Marcel. His art training began at Académie Julian,
but that is a bit misleading because he hated going to class and did not attend much. In those early years he was greatly
influenced by Henri Matisse’s Fauvism, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s Cubism, and Neo-Impressionism in general. He teamed
up with several artists including Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Alexander
Archipenko, and many others to form the "Golden Section" painters' group. One of his most successful paintings from
this period was his infusion of cubist techniques to show movement across a canvas in a very Fauvist manner. The result was
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. It was criticized by the Cubists in Europe. It outraged Americans who viewed it at the New York Armory Show in
1913. It was scandalous to have "Nude" in the title, because nude refers back to ones lack of power and it bordered on the
pornographic. He became one of the worlds most popular artist overnight because of the painting. Duchamp came to New York
largely to seek refuge from World War I, he was shocked by his popularity in America and moved to the city. There he discovered
a formula for success: shock the public into loving you.
Nude Descending a Staircase. No.2
1912. Oil on Canvas. 53 X 35 inches. Philadelphia
Museum of Art. PA. USA.
The formula was again tested by Duchamp when he began to work with the Dada movement in the form of ready-mades. This was
the birth of his conceptual works, because they were more about ideas rather than products. "I am interested in ideas, not merely in visual products." These ready-mades were objects that were taken
from there intended purpose and placed on display as art artifacts with a witty title. Clever idea or shock to the art system:
whatever the idea, Duchamp's popularity would clime, but he did have some hesitation before jumping into the ready-made concept
with both feet. It was 1917. The Society for Independent Artists had a show that featured a work titled Fountain. This was a porcelain urinal that was bought at a plumbing supply shop and placed on display as a work of art. Again,
unwilling to take credit for the idea, mostly because he was the chairman of the exhibition, Duchamp signed the work R. Mutt. The organizers were a mess over the work and Duchamp himself resigned as chairman in support
of "Mutt" and published a written defense of this art. He would eventually take credit for the work and continued to build
ready-mades by fusing some manufactured items together with some simple modifications. "I thought to discourage
aesthetics... I threw the bottle rack and the urinal in their faces and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty."
1917. Porcelain. 25 inches tall. Arturo Schwarz
Collection. Milan, Italy.
Duchamp's most known Dada work was penciled in mustache and goatee on a print of the Mona
Lisa. This he called L.H.O.O.Q. In French this means "Elle a chaud au cul." Translated
to English, "She has hot pants." This graphic of disrespect is a Dada expression against art and culture.
1919. Graphite on Print. 7X5 inches. Georges Pompidou
Center, Paris, France.
Fed up with the small minded art market, artist Marcel Duchamp became an anti-artist.
He quit making art in 1923 to refocus: he worked as an art critic and professional chess player. "Chess
can be described as the movement of pieces eating one another." He lived and worked between his homeland (France) and
his adopted home (the United States). He became an American citizen in 1955. Most of his art criticisms were done in collaboration
with Max Ernst and André Breton. He was one of the most, if not the most, influential artists of the twentieth
century. Weather or not you like his art, it makes no difference to what it is: "Art may be bad, good
or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way as a bad emotion
is still an emotion." Most every artist was influenced by Duchamp. He was the pusher for his concepts regarding art.
"I've decided that art is a habit-forming drug. That's all it is, for the artist, for the collector, for
anybody connected with it." His ideas literally made Op Art, Pop Art, cinema, kinetic art, installation, art criticism,
and many other art streams what they are today.