The intellectual, Marcel Duchamp. An unprecedented cerebral process is at the root of his process, in History of Art. Rejecting “art as art”, redefining perspective, desacralizing the object, advocating a concept, producing the random… all these are exercises of this avant-garde iconoclast, dissident, prophet and pioneer.

Artsper offers you 7 essentials, to understand his work.

#1 His signature gives rise to artistic gesture, like a work of art


Marcel Duchamp, ‘Autoportrait,  signature’, 1964

Name : Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Origins : Blainville -Crevon, Seine Maritime
Signature : R. Mutt
Pseudonym : Rrose Sélavy
Self defines as : Anartist

Marcel Duchamp takes interest in the role of signature in art and its capacity to assign art work, the way it is. Through this process, he seizes its value and influence to turn a urinal into a museum object, along with the mention R Mutt ».


#2 Dandy, dadaist or dissident


Marcel Duchamp, ‘Bicycle wheel, 1913,  © ina

Without being “a dynamiter of the society” as History writes, Marcel Duchamp is above all a deserter and decadent, with a firm rejection for dominating norms. Work, bourgeois, religion, routine, good taste are “enemies” according to him. He prefers to “live like a waiter”, at the cost of insatiable freedom. Accompanied with Francis Picabia, his acolyte, and the Dadaist movement, incarnating a state of mind, Rrose Sélavy embraces a Bohemian lifestyle, far from any conformism.

#3 Redefining a work of art

I have studied this piece a number of times during academia, I was happy to see it in person.


« It doesn’t matter if Mr. Mutt manufactured the fountain with his own hands or not. It was his choice. He took an ordinary element in life and made it in such a manner that the useful meaning seems to disappear and makes room for a new meaning and viewpoint-he created a new thought for this object» (Marcel Duchamp).

The strength of Marcel Duchamp’s work lies on deviating a viewpoint: from the work to the topic, from the outside to the inside, from manufacturing to the concept. The “unique” feature of the artwork is twisted, it turns into a game of symbolic representation with the artist.

#4 He considers painting to be outdated and opts for the 4D theory

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Etant données :  1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage’, 1968 © Philadelphia museum of art

While painting was his first ally, Duchamp disapproves of this retinal art and proclaims its death sentence. He gave up his universe inspired by Picabia, Manet, Kandinsky or even Derain to explore the theory of 4D during the early 90’s. The perspective aspect, nourished his experiments which Le Grand Verre or Étant données materialize:  1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage (1968). An echo to L’origine du monde by Courbet, the installation above intensifies voyeurism. There is a door on a wall, without a handle or a lock. The spectator is sentenced to play be impish and look at the feminine sex, through two little holes, which symbolize the eyes.


#5 Science, fate, pataphysics… trials at the heart of his process 

Marcel Duchamp, Anemic Cinema, 1926

The Pataphysics College, still held by iconoclasts today, is a “society of savant and useless research”. Those days, avant garde artists like Jean Baudrillard, René Clair, Max Ernst, Jean Ferry to name a few were part of it, their aim was to create according to scientific laws. The video above, created by Man Ray, hatches the symbol of Pataphysics: an endless spiral, full of symbols. Three years before Un chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel, Anemic Cinema promotes experimental cinema and optical art, against a parody of silent Seventh art.

#6 Calembours and eroticism in the line of sight


Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919 © Georges Meguerditchian – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

Subversive humor attains its paroxysm through Rrose Sélavy. Disseminate a hint of irony to desacralize, this is the qualified operation of “philosophy”, according to him. Indifference and interference are his weapons to depict spoonerism and shenanigans.

#7 Welcoming arts works of Duchamp, widens the gap


Marcel Duchamp, ‘Nu descendant un escalier’, 1912 © Philadelphia Museum of Art

Genius or a swindler, the audience did criticize. Nu descendant un escalier, is the prototype. In 1912, Marcel Duchamp wanted to exhibit this at the Independents fair, but on the eve of the opening, his brothers and friends asked him to remove the painting, as they didn’t see it in keeping with Cubist orthodoxy. A year later, the same Nu, was displayed at the Armory Show in New York and triggered an ovation from the crowd. The Americans perceived Nu descendant un escalier as an avant-garde symbol.