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Duchamp's Biography with images, videos and animations
Excerpt from "Great Modern Masters — Duchamp" and Bride Stipped Bare by Thomas Girst
In His Own Words and what some of his contemporaries had to say



In Duchamp's own words...

an-artist, chess player, cheese dealer, breather, fenêtrier
See full length movie " Duchamp In His Own Words"


...and here's what some of his contemporaries had to say:

• André Breton:

"Marcel Duchamp is the only one of all his contemporaries who is in no way inclined to grow older."

—from Duchamp: A Biography, by Calvin Tomkins, 1996.


• Robert Lebel:

"Originality nowadays is narrowly connected with rareness. And on this point, Duchamp's attitude, the only one that is perfectly uncompromising, whatever human preoccupations he may surround us with, remains, to the more conscious poets and painters who approach him, a subject of confusion and envy.

It was as early as the end of 1912 that Duchamp suffered the great intellectual crisis that progressively forced him to abandon this mode of expression which seemed vitiated to him. The practice of drawing and painting appeared to him as a kind of trickery that tended towards the senseless glorification of the hand and of nothing else."

—from 'Lighthouse of The Bride' in Marcel Duchamp, Robert Lebel,ed.,1959.


• By John Cage

1887
The check. The string he dropped. The Mona Lisa. The musical notes taken out of a hat. The glass. The toy shotgun painting. The things he found. Therefore, everything seen-every object, that is, plus the process of looking at it-is a Duchamp.

He simply found that object, gave it his name. What then did he do? He found that object, gave it his name. Identification. What then shall we do? Shall we call it by his name or by its name? It's not a question of names.

One way to write music: study Duchamp.

Say it's not a Duchamp. Turn it over and it is.

—from 'Statements Re Duchamp,' see Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck, 1975, pp.67-68

• By Salvador Dali

The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.

When Duchamp understood that he had generously sown the wind with his youthful ideas until he had no more, he aristocratically stopped his "game" and announced prophetically that other young men would specialize in the process of contemporary art.

Then he played chess itself.

—from Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, by Pierre Cabanne, 1987, pp. 13-14

• By Richard Hamilton

If everything that Marcel Duchamp signed is to be regarded as a Readymade by Duchamp, then we are in deep water.

Yet, although I asked Marcel for the signature, I am quite sure that his replacing of it on the 'DON'T FORGET' slip was a deliberate and beautiful thought. He could have used any scrap of paper and, no doubt, the pad was the handiest thing available but I see it as an entirely typical Duchamp image.

It was a theory of Duchamp's that the more things he signed the more he devalued the unique object.

—from 'Letter to Alison Knowles', see duchamp: passim, a marcel duchamp anthology, ed. Anthony Hill, 1994, pp. 174-75

• By Anthony Hill

1900
Duchamp's answers and notions-seen always as 'disinterested'-show a remarkable humane logic as against his image (often deliberately calculated) as a recalcitrant iconoclast. It was this humane logic which he brought to bear upon those crucial questions we might call simplistic complexities which preciously nearly all twentieth-century artists have failed to see or wished to solve.

Duchamp's 'dialectic'-if we choose to use that term-resembles a set of Chinese boxes, as many as we can find (he leaves us to count them) and while manipulating them is unpacking Duchamp, we find that he has invented conditions for art which work both retrospectively and for the future.

—from 'Aimez-vous Duchamp', see duchamp: passim, a marcel duchamp anthology, ed. Anthony Hill, 1994, p. 11

• By Harriet and Sidney Janis

1912

He thinks and works in terms of mechanics, natural forces, the ravages of time, the multiplex accidents of chance. He marshals these forces...., and employs them consciously to produce forms and develop objects, and the results themselves he regards as secondary to the means used in making them.

Duchamp's work falls into categories of three, intentionally or otherwise: movement, machine concept, and irony. Irony subdivides into three groups: selection, chance, and the ravages of time. Chance figurations are designated by Marcel as obtainable by employing the following three methods: wind, gravity, and the device termed adresse.

He identifies the means of working, the creative enterprise, with life itself, considers it to be as necessary to life as breathing, synonymous with the process of living.

—from 'Marcel Duchamp Anti-artist', see View, series V, n. 1, 1945, pp. 19-54

• By Jasper Johns

1920
Marcel Duchamp, one of this century's pioneer artists, moved his work through the retinal boundaries which had been established with Impressionism into a field where language, though, and vision act upon one another. There it changes form through a complex interplay of new mental and physical materials, heralding many of the technical, mental and visual details to be found in more recent art.

In the 1920s Duchamp gave up, quit painting. He allowed, perhaps encouraged, the attendant mythology. One thought of his decision, his willing this stopping. Yet on one occasion, he said it was not like that. He spoke of breaking a leg, "You don't mean to do it." he said.

He declared that he wanted to kill art ("for myself") but his persistent attempts to destroy frames of reference altered our thinking, established new units of thought, "a new thought for that object." The art community feels Duchamp's presence and his absence. He has changed the condition of being there.

—from Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, by Pierre Cabanne, 1987, pp.109-10

The Large Glass. A greenhouse for his intuition. Erotic machinery, the Bride held in a see-through cage-"a Hilarious picture." Its cross-reference of sight and thought, the changing focus of the eyes and mind, give fresh sense to the time and space we occupy, negate any concern with art as transportation. No end is in view in this fragment of a new perspective. "In the end you lose interest, so I didn't feel the necessity to finish it."

—from 'Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968),' see Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck, 1975, p. 147

• By Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia

1931
Any work by Marcel Duchamp is always, even for the best-informed of his friends, a source of surprise and speculation.

These discs (Roto-reliefs) are the result of a deliberate confusing of the values and arbitrary limits by which , as is our wont, we separate the concrete from the abstract, Art from the Commonplace. They are everyday gramophone records on which Duchamp has traced, in colour, flat geometric designs: spirals and circles. This optical illusion created by their rotation produces unexpected forms, objects perceived in relief....They provoke the same sort of surprise and ambivalence and as such are of a piece with the kind of humour frequently found in his work.

— from 'Fluttering Heart', see duchamp: passim, a marcel duchamp anthology, ed. Anthony Hill, 1994, pp. 15-18



• By Robert Motherwell

1942
Through his creative act, Marcel Duchamp did not want to impose a new revolutionary language, but to propose an attitude of mind.... He speaks in calm, steady, level voice; his memory is prodigious, the words that he employs are not automatic or stale, as though one is replying for the nth time to an interviewer, but carefully considered...

Notice that he very frequently utilizes the words 'thing' to designate his own creations, and 'to make' to evoke his creative acts. The terms 'game', or 'it is amusing,' or 'I want to amuse myself,' recur often; they are ironic evidence of his nonactivity.

It seemed to me that he gave a certain emotional stability to the group in exile during those anxiety-ridden years after the defeat of France in 1940, when the Nazis gained everywhere, for a time.

Duchamp's intelligence contributed many things, of course, but for me its greatest accomplishment was to make him beyond the merely "aesthetic" concerns that face every "modern" artist-whose role is neither religious nor communal, but instead secular and individual.

—from Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, by Pierre Cabanne, 1987, pp. 7-12

• By Man Ray

1947

31 Rue Campagne-Première; The demi-sphere aux mots exquis continue to rotate. But you never told me about the Broyeuse de Chocolat. I had to find out for myself. It was a pleasure, a much greater pleasure to find out by myself. Would it be an indiscretion on my part to relate that, walking down the streets of Rouen with my back to the lopsided steeples of the cathedral, I was overcome by the a most delicious odor of chocolate which grew stronger as I advanced? And then, there they were, in a window, those beautifully polished steel drums churning around in the soft brown yielding mass of exquisite aroma? Later when questioned, you admitted your pure school-boy love. Ton amour-propre. I translate freely.

Hollywood; merci, cher vieux, I received your valise. Those who say you do not work any more are crazy. I know you do not like to repeat yourself, but only a real cheater can repeat himself with impunity. The most insignificant thing is a thousand times more interesting and fruitful than the best that can be said or done by your detractors. Strange how those most suspicious of your pulling their legs haven't any to stand on.

1945, New York; yes, and chess. Au revoir!

—from 'Bilingual Biography', see View, series V, n. 1, 1945, p. 32 & 51

• By H. P. Roché

1963
1968
He was creating his own legend, a young prophet who wrote scarcely a line, but whose words would be repeated from mouth to mouth and from whose daily life anecdotes and miracles would be constructed.

—from Marcel Duchamp, by Robert Lebel, 1959, p. 79

• By Beatrice Wood

When I asked why he was keeping such things around, he smiled. They had their purpose, he said, but I should not give them a thought. Once I remember pointing to a square box that had sugar in it. "What is that?" I asked, wanting to be sympathetic to his ideas. "Cela n'a pas d'importance," he would say. And I knew nothing was as important as just being there.

Many think Duchamp was the greatest painter of the period, the most inventive. I must confess that, with the exception of Nude Descending a Staircase, I really did not understand his work. He meant so much to me personally, as he did to so many others. I was in no way the great love of his life, but one who for a short time was close to him. That I am now sentimental about him is something that Marcel probably would not have liked. But that the man meant more to me than his art is something that hewould have understood, always smiling and murmuring, "Cela n'a pas d'importance."

—from Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, ed. Rudolf E. Kuenzli & Francis M. Naumann, 1989, pp.12-17

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