The Artist Marcel Duchamp

Born in 1887 in Blainville-Crevon, France, the artist Marcel Duchamp has had extraordinary impact on twentieth-century Western art. Associated with Dada and Surrealism, Duchamp’s influence on these on these movements was integral to their development despite his relatively small portfolio. While his art and writings would help revolutionize the post-WWI art world, they also demonstrated his playful personality as evidenced by his controversial work Fountain, that notorious urinal—a subversive work that challenged the world’s notions about what is art.

Duchamp hailed from an artistic family. Siblings Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti were also renowned artists. Initially, his association as the younger brother of Jacques Villon garnered him entry to the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture where, by 1908, he would enjoy his first exhibition. Yet, it was the meetings and discussions with other artists that would have a profound effect on his views about art. In 1912, Duchamp produced the first work that would reflect his desire to challenge old notions about art; Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2 with its elements of Cubism and Futurism raised eyebrows in France, but would scandalize the New York art scene when he showed it there in 1913.

After 1915, Duchamp spent little time painting (excepting his The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even—also known as The Large Glass, a work that combined oil and wire on glass), but he cemented his place in avant-garde movements with his work in sculpture. His pioneering achievements in kinetic art and ready-made art led to his lasting fame in the art world. In 1917, Fountain was refused showing by New York’s Society of Independent Artists. This work caused tremendous uproar and is, consequently, one of Duchamp’s best-known works.

Duchamp’s work with kinetic art (a work that employs a moving part) and found objects resulted in other pieces that would cement his fame. A wheel mounted on a stool, Bicycle Wheel, hinted at the artist’s preoccupation with physics and mathematics. Duchamp also continued to write and organize important art exhibitions such as the International Surrealist Exhibition at the Gallerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1938. Duchamp became a U.S. citizen in 1955, but died in Paris in 1968. His work not only dramatically influenced the Dada and Surrealist movements, but Pop Art too. Some of his most famous works can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.