“I have forced myself to contradict myself to avoid conforming to my own taste.” (1945)
Marcel Duchamp is one of the most influential and innovative avant-garde artists of the twentieth century. His introduction of the Ready-made object shocked the art world of his day, and created a decisive shift in the modern perception of what constitutes a piece of art. Artists such as Man Ray, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Robert Morris, and Greg Curnoe have acknowledged the influence of Duchamp’s work and theory on their respective oeuvre.
Born into a family of artists, Duchamp was encouraged to begin experimenting with art at an early age. In 1904 he began taking classes at the Académie Julian, and his paintings were first exhibited publicly at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants in 1909. Originally Duchamp focused on classic subject matter like the female nude (The Red Nude). Through his exhibitions as well as his family’s connections in the art world, however, Duchamp became acquainted with many members of the Parisian avant-garde and contemporary styles such as Cubism and Futurism would influence his paintings for the next few years. Exempt from military service during the First World War because of a minor heart condition, Duchamp traveled to New York in 1915 and would spend the rest of his life living between the United States and Paris, with the exception of a year spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1918.
Around 1912, Duchamp came into contact with the writings of Max Stirner, a philosopher who valued individual right and experience above societal needs. Such theories would deeply affect Duchamp’s oeuvre, who from this point forward would abandon traditional techniques of artmaking and focus on creating works that challenged the social conception of art as something purely visual and aesthetic. The artist created works such as Bicycle Wheel, Bottle Dryer, and Fountain referring to them as Ready-mades – ordinary objects that become elevated to the status of art through intellectual consideration. These would become some of Duchamp’s most lasting contributions to the art world, and would become the forerunners of such movements as Dada, Surrealism and Pop. The artist also adopted a female alter-ego, Rrose Selavy in 1919 and would occasionally identify his more sexually suggestive artworks or theories as being created by this figure. A lifelong chess enthusiast, Duchamp seriously limited his art production in 1923 in favor of the study of chess. Marcel Duchamp died in 1968, and was honored after his death by retrospective exhibitions in major institutions in both France and the United States.