7 Reasons to Celebrate Marcel Duchamp on His Birthday

Duchamp was a prankster, a rabble-rouser, and an envelope pusher.

Duchamp plays John Cage in Toronto, 1968.
Photo; zettelmagazine.com.

Marcel Duchamp was a prankster, a rabble-rouser, and an envelope pusher. Over a century after he plunged a bicycle wheel into a four-legged stool, artists are still paying homage to his life and work.

At the time, however, not all collectors were happy with his readymades. According to Tout-Fait, the Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, Dorothea Dreier commissioned Duchamp to create Why Not Sneeze, Rrose Selavy? (1921) for $300; when he submitted the work, she apparently hated it and gave it to her sister, who later sold it to collector Walter Arensberg without a profit. (It’s now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art‘s permanent collection.)

The artist, who passed away in 1968, always had a sense of humor about his work and ensured that no one could map out his oeuvre without noticing his tricks. For example, his 1964 Fountain is a “hand-crafted, editioned, gallery-sanctioned, sort-of-signed simulation of the functional urinal” that Duchamp originally presented to the viewing public in 1917.

Here are seven reasons why we love the artist, on what would be his 128th birthday.

1. Duchamp on art: “I was very happy when I discovered that I could introduce humor into it.”

2. Duchamp on his feminine alterego, Rrose Sélavy: “I decided that it didn’t suffice me to be a lone individual with a masculine name, I wanted to change my name in order to change, for the ready-mades above all, to make another personality from myself.”

3. Duchamp on influences:  “The first thing to know: one doesn’t realize one is influenced. One thinks he is already liberated and one is far from it!”

4. Duchamp on “reverse readymades”: “That would be to take a Rembrandt and to use it like an ironing board.”

5. Calvin Tomkins on Duchamp: “He spoke about how he doubted everything and, in doubting everything, found ways to come up with something new.”

6. Duchamp on his Impressionist stage: “When you are 15 and painting like the Impressionists, you are experimenting with yourself… It took me ten years or more to change the style [and] I tried to find something else.”

7. Duchamp on Bicycle Wheel (1913): “I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace.”


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