Prominent avant-garde painter and installation artist, most often associated with the manifestations of dada, Marcel Duchamp was born near Blanville (Normandy, France) in an upper-middle-class family.
In 1904, he joined his elder artist brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, in Paris, where he enrolled at the Académie Julian. His early works were postimpressionist in style. During the following years, Duchamp’s paintings displayed the influence of fauvism (Paradise, 1910-1911; Portrait of Dr. R. Dumouchel, 1910), and cubism (Chess Players, 1911). Between 1911 and 1913, he became involved with the group of artists known as the Golden Section, alongside Fernand Léger, and started using cubist techniques in an attempt to capture movement on canvass (Sad Young Man in a Train, 1911; King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes, 1912). Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), first shown at the Salon des Indépendants, then at the New York Armory Show in 1913, aroused fierce controversies and established Duchamp’s reputation in the United States.
The same year, Duchamp created his first installation piece, Bicycle Wheel (mounted upside down on a kitchen stool), which announced the famous series of readymades (a concept he launched three years later). The idea of taking banal objects from their everyday environment, and endowing them with an iconoclastic message by signing them and providing a title for what is thereafter displayed as an “art object” (e.g., Bottle Rack, 1914), predated the first dada manifestations in Paris, and exerted a powerful influence on avant-garde movements in France and the United States, most notably on postwar pop- and op-art paintings and installations. Duchamp’s provocative Fountain—1917 (a urinal signed R. Mutt) was refused by the Society of Independent Artists and the Armory Show. As early as 1913, Duchamp started elaborating one of his most complex mixed-media works, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), which he officially declared “unfinished” in 1923.
In 1915, he traveled to the United States and met Man Ray, who was to become one of his closest friends and collaborators. From 1920 to 1926, the two artists worked together on a series of experiments with optics and movement: Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics)—1920 and Rotary Demisphere (Precision Optics)—1925. This project inspired Duchamp’s film Anémic Cinéma (1926), which he produced with the help of Man Ray and Marc Allégret, and which included a combination of verbal puns and optical effects. During the early 1920s, Duchamp co-founded (with Katharine Dreier) the Société Anonyme, Inc., which was devoted to the propagation of modern art in the United States, and he edited the only issue of the magazine New York Dada (1921) with Man Ray. In 1934, Duchamp published the Green Box, which contained a series of documents related to The Large Glass. During World War II, Duchamp helped Breton organize the 1942 surrealist exhibition in New York City and coedited (with Ernst and Breton) the magazine VVV. In 1954, he married Teeny Salter, and in 1955 he became an American citizen. For the last twenty years of his life, Duchamp worked secretly on a major installation piece, Etant donnés/Given, which has been posthumously exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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