the art of ballOOn-painting

by uwe kurz

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)


Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp was born on the 28th of July 1887 in Blainville Crevon in the deepest province of France. Although the father belonged as a notary to the bourgeoisie, he did not prevent Marcel Duchamps from becoming an artist and supported him financially for a long time. The older brothers Gaston (*1875), later known as Jaques Villon, and Raymond (*1876), later known as Duchamp Villon, had already become artists and had moved to Paris, so did Marcel Duchamp after an apprenticeship in art printing. Between 1902 and 1910 he passed through the »Isms« of his time (Impressionism, Fauvism, Symbolism, Cubism) in eclecticistic way and worked as a caricaturist.
    On the Salon d'Automne in 1911 he advanced with the Cubism to the top of the avant-garde. He exhibited »Portrait« (1911) and »Jeune Homme et une Jeune Fille dans le Printemps« (1911). On the Salon de Indépendants 1912 he was requested by his artist colleagues, to withdraw »Nu descendant un Escalier n * 2« (1912) from the exhibition because it breaked up the solidified program of the Cubists around Gleizes and Metzinger.

Maybe it will be reserved to an artist, who is as free of aesthetic doubts and as mindful on energy as Marcel Duchamp to reconcile art and people again together.

In 1913 »Nu descendant un Escalier n° 2« was the Shooting star of the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York, called »Armory Show«, because it took place in a former military arsenal. With this exhibition America was introcuced for the first time to the developments in Europe after the Impressionism. The visitors pushed themselves around Duchamps work. It became, illustrated in the newspapers all over the nation, overnight the most well-known painting in America and Duchamp to the most well-known contemporary Frenchman. Here begins the completely different history of Duchamps in America and Europe.

    In Paris Duchamp left the group of the Cubists. He painted only a few paintings and looked for a regular work as a librarian. He wanted to remove from the »artist´s claw« and stopped painting with oilpaint and brush. The first »works, which were no art« developed: objects, later defined  as ready-mades, and the ideas to the »Great Glass« or »La Mariée mise à nu par ses Célibataires, même«.
    Duchamp fled  in 1915 to New York and was welcomed there as a well-known artist, who he had not been in Paris by any means. He had painted the »nude«, which had caused so much sensation. In New York he was soon one of the outstanding leaders around the collectors-couple Arensberg, who gathered the intellectual scene around themself.
    With the ready-made »bicycle-stool« (1913) the Cubist´s principle of Collage reached an expansion to the third dimension. So the first kinetic object was created, whose movements could be set or stopped by the coincidental interventions of the visitors. The coincidence/chance was staged in the years 1913/14 for the first time, arranged like an experiment in a laboratory: Duchamp let three cords, each in the length of 1 m, fall to the floor from a height of 1 m and cut the obtained curves into wooden rulers.
    Duchamp created ready-mades and worked on the »Great Glass« until 1923. More and more he withdrew from being an active artist, participated hardly in exhibitions and mainly he played chess. Later he dealed in artwork, organized exhibitions and directed the rezeption of his own works.
After World War II almost everything of his work was gathered in the collections of the couple Louise and Walter Arensberg and Kathrine Dreier. Most works were transferred to the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, where the life's work of Marcel Duchamp is exhibited in a unique completeness.
In 1968 Duchamp died. Posthum became his last large work »Etant donnés: 1 * la chute d'eau, 2 * le gaz d'éclairage« known, on which he had worked since 1946 in hidden.


Matthias Böttger: Marcel Duchamps Fountain
translated and supplied by Uwe Kurz


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