Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp: Joey


Marcel was born in 1887 in Normandy, France but spent much of his life traveling between Europe and the United States. Duchamp participated in many of the movements during his life including impressionism, cubism and Dadaism.  His cubist work, Nude Descending a Staircase, received many negative reactions in terms of it’s “dehumanizing rendering of the female nude,” according to the Salon Des Independants.  These reactions gave Duchamp the reputation of a provocateur, which was surely supported by his works in the Dadaist movement.  Mixing satire and irony, Duchamp’s ‘Readymade’ Dadaist work, such as Fountain, pushed many viewing his works to not only question what they were seeing but also, whether it was art and even forced them to ask the question: What is art?  Marcel Duchamp died in 1968 in his home country of France.

Fountain (1917) Urinal

Salvador Dali as Mona lisa 1919

Bicycle Wheel, 1963. Readymade.

3 stoppages étalon (3 Standard Stoppages) 1913-14

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915–23 Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887–1968) Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels; 109 1/4 x 69 1/4 in. (277.5 x 175.9 cm)


Non-art created by non-artists, Dadaism through a wrench into everyone’s perceptions of what could be considered art and even what art essentially was.  It was launched in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916  but soon spread to the major cities in the world like New York and Paris to name a few.  A movement not only evident in art but also in literature, Dadaism was born as a response to the disgust held towards WWI.  Artists viewed the War as humanity breaking it’s traditions and slipping from its sanity and so as a response, they broke their traditions by creating “non-art since art (and everything else in the world) has no meaning, anyway.” ( There was a variety of mediums used in this genre, from paintings to Readymades which were essentially ordinary things, such as a urinal (Fountain).


Duchamp was, like other Dadaist artists, inspired by the Great War and in Duchamp’s case, became very fond of mocking society as a whole.  He viewed earlier works as “retinal” art and wanted to change art from a solely visual experience to one that recruited the service of the mind.  This was apparent in his Readymade pieces such as Fountian, in which seeing the piece, which was simply a Urinal, clearly was not the point and instead the audience was forced to use its mind to try and understand what Duchamp had created, if it can even be said that he created something.

21st Century Comparison 

There seems to be no better 21st artist comparison to Duchamp than Yoko Ono.  A powerful force in the realm of art even at the ripe age of 81, Ono continues to push the envelope of what is art. At an art display in Liverpool in 2008, Ono presented Three Mounds and Skyladders which, true to its name, was a work of art that literally had three mounds of dirt and a bunch of ladders.  Although it occupied far more space, Three Mounds and Skyladders has the similar affect as Duchamp’s Fountain, which is that the audience can gain little solace from what they are seeing and must utilize their mental capacities to attempt to understand, if not deal with, what they are being told is art.

Three Mounds and Skyladders (Could not find picture that included ladders) 2008 Dirt

Personal Reflection

Although I can understand what Duchamp and other artists of the Dadaist generation were trying to do, I can’t help but feel completely disconnected from the works and I feel a sense of disdain towards the artists for, how I would explain it, abusing their position/authority.  We look up to and revere artists because they see the world through unique lenses and can bring our attention to certain things in the human experience that are either too minute or to expansive for us to notice.  Because of this, I think there’s a sort of trust between the audience and the artist and their creation.  Artists, as the stereotype describes, can be some very eccentric people and us as the audience have to suspend our criticisms and try our best to be open minded when viewing a work of art.  But in the case of Dadaists, I feel that the artists are playing a trick on the audience, making us seem like babbling fools who are trying, when left looking at a urinal, to pull any sophisticated significance and ideas from what we are seeing when in fact it took the artist very little time to create the piece.  Although this aversion to the movement was exactly what the artists were going for, I’d like to think that artists understand that they are in an important position in the human world and that they would not try to dupe their audience, which is exactly where their profession depends on, an audience.


Rosenthal, Nan. “Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Dawn Ades and Matthew Gale“Dada.” Grove Art OnlineOxford Art OnlineOxford University PressWeb11 Apr. 2014.<>.;


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