Born in Blainville, France, near Rouen, Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) first traveled to the United States in 1915. Forty years later he became an American citizen. Although not commonly considered in the context of American art, Duchamp was indelibly shaped by his adopted country. It was in the United States that Duchamp first made his mark on modern art even before his arrival, thanks to the explosive reception of Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) at the 1913 Armory Show.
Duchamp returned to France in 1923, making occasional trips back to the United States, where he settled permanently in 1942. He relished the opportunity to reinvent himself and did so frequently. Styling himself a provocateur, in 1917 he famously submitted a urinal, entitled Fountain, to a nonjuried art exhibition, from which it was rejected. The work bore his first pseudonym, R. Mutt. This alternate identity would not be his last.
Duchamp invented his best-known alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, in the early 1920s. Indeed, his attention to self-representation would become a hallmark of his art and would revolutionize portraiture, transforming it into a conceptual enterprise.
Recognizing that posterity would determine the true significance of his work, Duchamp told an interviewer in 1955: “You should wait for fifty . . . or a hundred years for your true public. That is the only public that interests me.” This exhibition takes him at his word.
For more on Duchamp, purchase Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture edited by Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus. Copies are for sale at the National Portrait Gallery's museum shop (202.633.5450) or through The MIT Press. 320 pp., fully illustrated. $49.95/£29.95 (CLOTH).
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