Weekend Artists Series, Part 1: Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp cómo entender sus obras - Arte - Arte
(Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968)

This artist thought he was exalting the value/importance of the conjunctural, the fleeting and the contemporary.

Marcel Duchamp (born Marcele Duchampsonis on the 28th of July 1887 in Blainville-Crevon, France) seems to think art is created solely by the will of the “artist”. He dismisses the need of form, preparation or even talent.

Incredibly…to me…a significant number of supposed art historians consider him the most important artist of the XXth Century. This accreditation, naturally, began in the 1960’s.

André Breton said he was the most intelligent man of the century. And this is what Marcel Duchamp said of Breton:

“I never met a man with a greater capacity to love, or with a greater power to love the greatness of life and whose hatreds would not be understood because through them he protected the quality of his love of life, of the marvels of life. Breton loved like a beating heart. He was a lover of love in a world that believes in prostitution. That is his sign.” Marcel Duchamp

Marcel’s “art” was mostly composed of “ready-made” materials. However, his attitude towards art continue to heavily influence the newer tendencies within contemporary art today.

So what is his style? What is his tendency? To which school of art does he belong? He doesn’t. He does not belong to any school and has no style except for uniqueness. He has broken all the norms, rules, aesthetics and forms that existed in his day and if he were still here he would continue to do the same. He is considered to be the precursor to some of the more extreme and radical aspects of the evolution of art since 1945.

A little background on this artist:

In 1904 he took the entrance test to the École des Beaux-Arts and failed to gain admission. He registered instead at a private school, the Académie Julian, a school he quickly skipped out of preferring the night life at the local bars where he would sketch scenes of “real life”. He did his military service in Eu and returned to Paris in 1906. He began to paint in the fauvist style as of 1908. Then, and for some time, supposedly under the influence of Cézanne, he painted portraits, the most important of which was a psychological portrait of his father. However, even if he did demonstrate some talent in his early paintings, he painted very few of them in comparison with other artists.

On the 2nd of April 1915 he tells his friends in France that he was “totally decided” about leaving France. He said in a letter that he was “not going to New York, I am leaving Paris, which is different”. On the 15th of June he was on the transatlantic ship Rochambeau en route to New York. He dedicated his first few months in Manhattan to learning English and earning a living teaching French, but he did not paint. Two months later he had gained employment at the FIAF French Institute Alliance Française of New York.

In 1917 the Independent Artists Society is founded in New York, imitating the Salon des Indépendants of Paris. Their mission was to mount expos without juries or prizes. They were very successful and within two weeks they had six hundred members and Duchamp was named the charge of selection of artists and their work. He decided that the works would be exhibited in alphabetical order according to the artist’s last name. 2.125 works were exhibited corresponding to 1.200 artists, making this the largest expo in the history of the United States. Duchamp inserted his work under the pseudonym R. MUTT.

And what was that work of art that Duchamp submitted? It was a urinal that he had bought and on the which he had painted the name R. MUTT. The organisers refused to accept the entry and Duchamp resigned. However, the urinal was exhibited at Galery 291 (was an art gallery located at 291 5th Ave., Manhattan) where it was photographed. The original urinal disappeared, and no one really knows why it was even submitted to the exhibition by Duchamp. It could have been a provocative act of cynicism directed at those within the Institute who took themselves much too seriously.

What makes the urinal a work of art was because it was selected by the artist Marcel Duchamp. Fifty years after the fact Duchamp said he had tossed a urinal in their faces and now they admire it for its beauty and aesthetic. He is a genius and a very intelligent man, I must admit.

I am just going to add that in 1917 he did meet and befriend another “great” artists, Joan Miró in Barcelona. As an aside, I’ve nothing good to say about the “artwork” of Joan Miró, although nothing against the man who I do consider to be a most intelligent one as well. After all he has made many believe he is a great artist when he was, in fact, a talent-less man.

So reference Duchamp, I will jump to 1968 and say that he died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Here is the urinal, and since there is really nothing more to illustrate there will be no companion video. Hope you liked the post and hope you tell me what you think. Are you an admirer? Do you really think he is such a great artist? Tell me. All I have to say is that I do admire him, not for his art but for his philosophy, his sense of humour and his wit. If you are a fan of this type of art I would suggest you read up on this tendency which is called the “ready made”. There are many articles and information online to be found.

El urinario de Duchamp: la polémica pieza que cambió la percepción del arte  - La Tercera
(Photo by unknown photographer)


  1. macalder02 · January 23

    Duele decirse de un pintor, “Por sus obras, los reconoceré:” y la verdad que Duchamp tienes magníficas pinturas y esculturas. Buen fin de semana Francisco.

  2. Brad Osborne · January 23

    I am all for breaking from the norms and pushing the envelope of art, however the “ready made” movement seems a bit lackadaisical to me. The beauty of “ready made” art should be the bastion of the photographer, not the sanctuary of the lazy and talentless. Do not get me wrong, I think the florist is an expert at picking and arranging flowers in a delightful way, but I do not credit them for making the flowers beautiful. I do agree he is an intelligent and forward-thinking artist that did a lot for removing the stigma of haute society from the world of art, but his talent as an artist can be left to the viewer rather than the critics. Again, there is the lack of original creativity that I expect to be the hallmark of any artistic expression. Another great post in the series, Francisco! You continually teach me and help me to see past the common misconceptions that a novice like me can fall into. Bravo, my friend!

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · January 23

      You make very good points Brad, and I agree, the ready made is not art, unless it is contrived in a special…artistic…way, like Picasso did for example when he put the handlebars of an old bicycle and the seat together to compose the head of a bull or a cow, I am not certain exactly which. The genius of Duchamp was that he was the first to goof the artist establishment with his ready made art. Most of his “sculptures” are ready made items and not really put together in a very interesting or artistic manner. I only value him for his ideas but not for his “art”. To me a urinal from 1917 is not art…
      Thanks so much and all the best, hope you enjoy your Saturday, maybe you’ll get some riding in there if the weather is good. All the best,

  3. Anna Waldherr · January 24

    I cannot help but agree that Duchamp was talentless, if this urinal exemplifies his work. Honestly, the modern art world confuses me. Surely, art must involve more than posturing. Thank you for the education, Francisco.

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · January 25

      I think Duchamp was really goofing the establishment and art world that pushed forward the vanguards of the time, because fifty years later he laughed at all who actually thought the urinal was beautiful art! Thank you Anna.

  4. spwilcen · January 24

    So many pieces of art are daily lost to posterity for someone using the handle to be rid of the smell.

    • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · January 24

      Sounds great but I’ve no clue as to the meaning my friend…

      • spwilcen · January 24

        Aw geeze. Imagine. You go to the loo. You do your business. It’s not your home loo, you are befuzzled (confused) by unfamiliarity; you stand to wash-up before the good flush. Finishing your wash, you turn to see, “Uh-oh, I forgot something, and golly, what ever on earth did I eat to create such an (abstractly) artful design? And Lord, have mercy! What is that smell?” You consign the artwork to the galleries of metro sewerage, and wisely again wash your mitts (hands). Got it?

      • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · January 25

        Great analogy my friend, rather scatological but it gets the point across quite properly. Take good care and I hope you’ve a wonderful week ahead. All the best,

      • spwilcen · January 25

        Scatological but rather less offensive than coming right out and saying the obvious.

      • Francisco Bravo Cabrera · January 25

        Without a doubt! All the best SP!

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