b. 1887, France
French painter, sculptor, and writer, 1887-1968
Marcel Duchamp's reflections on the status of the work of art and the artist's position in the face of industrial automation exerted considerable influence on the development of 20th-century art. His initial foray into modern art followed the path of his contemporaries, with early paintings in the mode of Cézanne and the Impressionists and, after 1910, a shift towards Cubism. His irreverence for conventional aesthetic standards led him to devise his famous readymades and heralded an artistic revolution. With his first readymade Bicycle Wheel (1913; now lost), he initiated a creative process that was entirely separate from conventional notions of artistic skill. Instead, he emphasised the conceptual value of a work of art, seducing the viewer through irony and verbal witticisms rather than relying on aesthetic appeal.
Although he famously embraced a career as an international chess player in the 1920s, Duchamp never truly abandoned the art world. He continued working on larger-than-life artistic projects such as Box in a Valise (1935–41) and Étant Donnés (1946–66), as well as curating exhibitions that made a sensation. Aptly described by the Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning as a one-man movement, he is associated with many avant-garde movements, from Cubism to Dada and Surrealism, and paved the way for later developments such as Pop, Minimalism and Conceptual art. Public esteem for him grew as artists of the 1950s and 1960s found inspiration in his unorthodox attitudes toward art-making. His greatest legacy lies in his questioning, admonishment, critique, and playful ridicule of existing norms in order to transcend the status quo.
[Biography courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac]