March 19, 2010

The Art of Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp (1887 - 1968) was a painter and mixed media artist associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. Though he avoided any alliances his work is mostly categorized in as Dada, which was a richly subversive art movement that developed at the time of World War I. The name Dada (French for “hobby horse”) was chosen randomly from a French-German dictionary. This movement began in Zurich as a protest against the materialist principles and the foolishness of war. The aim of the Dadaists was to destroy traditional values in art and to create new art to replace the old.

(Duchamp, Marcel. Nude Descending a Staircase. c. 1912.
oil on canvas.)

Duchamp was born into an artist family and was an accomplished painter at an early age. Around 1912, he began to rethink accepted notions of “art” and “non-art”. In New York during and after World War I, he became actively engaged in the Dada movement with gently ironic projects involving ready-made objects, word games, optical experiments and metaphysical speculation. He made creative use of chance, language and ephemera such as dust and shadows.

(Duchamp, Marcel. Bicycle Wheel. c. 1913. aluminum and wood.)

Duchamp devised a Cubist-inspired technique for depicting motion and then moved on to something almost unheard of at that time, abstract painting. Yet by the end of the year 1912, he would virtually abandon painting to venture into uncharted territory. Duchamp’s legacy includes the insight that art can be about ideas instead of worldly things, a revolutionary notion that would resonate with later generations of artists. Duchamp said, “I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”

(Duchamp, Marcel. Bottle Rack. c. 1917. aluminum.)

Nude Descending a Staircase shows a human figure in motion, in a style inspired by Cubist ideas about the deconstruction of forms. There is nothing in it resembling an anatomical nude, only abstract lines and planes. The lines suggest her successive static positions and create a rhythmic sense of motion; shaded planes give depth and volume to her form. Motion and nude alike occur only in the mind of the viewer.

(Duchamp, Marcel. Fountain. c. 1917. glazed ceramic replica.)

Duchamp showed the way to a new kind of art. Compared with the varieties of visual expression that came before, his new art was seeking to engage the imagination and the intellect instead of just the eyes, he embraced humor as a valid aesthetic component and struggled to portray invisible worlds instead of just visible ones and his artwork is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing. 2008.

For more on Duchamp, see