Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp is known as being one of the most influential figures in modern art. Although his career was rather short, Duchamp is known as the father of conceptual art and a figurehead in the American Dada movement. His early works are said to be heavily influenced by Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism.

Duchamp was raised in Normandy, France and studied art in Paris, where he became well acquainted with modern art movements. In 1912, he submitted his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris where it became the center of much controversy. Inspired by cubism and futurism, the work shows the motion of a nude figure walking down a staircase. The work was not rejected from the show but Duchamp was asked to either withdraw the painting or to paint over the title on the canvas. He refused and a year later submitted the painting to the Armory Show in New York City where the work was a success, yet still considered to be scandalous.


Marcel Duchamp,  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

After his experiences surrounding Nude, Duchamp became disillusioned with what he called “retinal art”, or art that was simply made to be pleasing to the eye rather than the mind. Duchamp responded to retinal art with his readymades, which were “ordinary object[s] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”  In 1915, Duchamp moved to New York and soon became affiliated with New York Dada, which was considered to have a less serious tone than European Dada. In 1917, he created his most famous work and readymade, Fountain, which was simply a urinal that Duchamp had signed as “R. Mutt.” Duchamp submitted Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit but it was ultimately rejected after much debate concerning that validity of the readymade as an art piece. After this rejection, Duchamp stepped down as the director of the board of the Society of Independent Artists.


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

For fear of repetition in his work, Duchamp created a fairly small number of pieces during his career; however, his impact has been long-lasting. While Duchamp was heavily involved with many Dada artists and influenced by modern movements such as cubism and futurism, he himself subscribed to no particular movement. His refusal to create “retinal art” along with his unconventional readymades have influenced artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenburg and movements ranging from Pop Art to Installation and Conceptual Art.


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