Marcel Duchamp

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Marcel Duchamp worked from the beginning of the 20th century through the 1960s influencing the art world in ways that no other artists can claim. He had a part, even if it was small in nearly every art movement from the cubists to the futurists to the dada to surrealism and through to pop art, creating his own genre intermitted called ready made art.

Duchamp was a French Artist born in 1887 and moved to Paris in 1904 to pursue his career as a painter. Over the next twenty years he did his most famous works including Nude Descending a Staircase no. 2 and Fountain. Nude Descending a Staircase no. 2 was painted in 1912 and is a cubist depiction of a woman walking down a flight of stairs. This was one of Duchamp’s first and only attempts in cubist paintings (other paintings include Portrait of Chess Players, The King and the Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, and The Passage from the Virgin to Bride). Even though he had little experience with cubist painting he achieved a sense of vitality that no one else in that movement quite captured. Cubist theory says that a cubist painting is the depiction of a subject from multiple views at one time, but Duchamp changed their rules and depicted his subject from multiple views over time as to give a sense of movement and space. This piece was rejected by the Salon des Indépendents because they felt he was mocking the cubists. They also did not like the titled painted on the bottom left looking like a caption with reinforced their impression of his comic relief.

There was no question that as a painter Duchamp was along side even the most gifted painters of the time. What he lacked was faith in art itself, and he looked to replace aesthetic values in his work with something that was juxtaposed to the so-called common-sense world. As early as 1913 he began studies for an entirely awkward piece: The Large Glass, or The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. At this time he rejected what he called retinal art and adopted the geometrical methods of industrial design. It became like the blueprint of a machine, although a symbolic one, that embodied his ideas of man, woman, and love.

Like the Nude Descending a Staircase no. 2, The Large Glass was to be unique among works of modern painting. Between 1913 and 1923, Duchamp worked almost exclusively on the preliminary studies and the actual painting of the picture itself.

During this period a stroke of genius led him to a discovery of great importance in contemporary art, the so-called ready-made. In 1913 he produced the Bicycle Wheel, which was simply an ordinary bicycle wheel. In 1914, Pharmacy consisted of a commercial print of a winter landscape, to which he added two small figures reminiscent of pharmacists' bottles. It was nearly 40 years before the ready-mades were seen as more than a derisive gesture against the excessive importance attached to works of art, before their positive values were understood.

In February 1923 Duchamp stopped working on "The Large Glass," considering it definitely and permanently unfinished. As the years passed, art activity of any kind interested him less and less, but the cinema came to fulfill his pleasure in movement. His works to this point had been only potential machines, and it was time for him to create machines that were real, that worked and moved. The first ones were devoted to optics and led to a short film, Anemic Cinema (1926). With these and other products, including "optical phonograph records," he acted as a kind of amateur engineer. The modesty of his results, however, was a way by which he could ridicule the ambitions of industry.

In 1932 Duchamp teamed up with fellow chess theorist Halberstadt to publish L'opposition et cases conjuguées sont réconciliées (Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled). This pataphysical (term coined by the French writer Alfred Jarry, is a philosophy dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics) treatise describes the...
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