Cubist-Futurist, experimental Dadaist, conceptual artist — Marcel Duchamp was a champion of revolutionizing art

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Marcel Duchamp. Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). Oil on canvas.

October 2, On This Day

Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1920–21 by Man Ray, Yale University Art Gallery

Numerous critics consider Marcel Duchamp to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century. The phenomenal visionary, who died 53 years ago today on October 2, 1968, was born in July 1887 and had an incredible career spanning several decades — he was a French painter, sculptor, chess player, and writer whose work is associated with Cubism, Dada, and conceptual art.
Along with stalwarts like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Duchamp is commonly recognised as one of the three artists who helped to define revolutionary developments in the plastic arts of the early 20th century, leading to significant developments in painting and sculpture.

Duchamp’s early art works align with Post-Impressionist styles. As with many artists of the time, he was intrigued with the concept of depicting the fourth dimension in art. His painting Sad Young Man on a Train embodies this preoccupation.

Marcel Duchamp, Nude (Study), Sad Young Man on a Train (Nu [esquisse], jeune homme triste dans un train), 1911–12, oil on cardboard mounted on Masonite,
Wikipedia informs that “Duchamp’s first work to provoke significant controversy was Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2) (1912). The painting depicts the mechanistic motion of a nude, with superimposed facets, similar to motion pictures. It shows elements of both the fragmentation and synthesis of the Cubists, and the movement and dynamism of the Futurists.”
Duchamp later submitted this to the iconic 1913 “Armory Show” in New York City. It was the first major exhibition of modern trends coming out of Paris, encompassing experimental styles of the European avant-garde, including Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism. American show-goers, accustomed to realistic art, were scandalized, and the Nude was at the center of much of the storm.

Marcel Duchamp. Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). Oil on canvas.

The most prominent example of Duchamp’s association with Dada was his submission of Fountain, a urinal, to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit in 1917. Artworks in the Independent Artists shows were not selected by jury, and all pieces submitted were displayed. However, the show committee insisted that Fountain was not art, and rejected it from the show. This caused an uproar among the Dadaists, and led Duchamp to resign from the board of the Independent Artists.

Fountain 1917, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

He went on to create art with found objects, kinetic art works, musical ideas, a pseudonym in drag, installation art and chess!

He died peacefully of heart failure at his home in France, after a dinner with friends, at the age of 81.

Marcel Duchamp’s gravestone Rouen, France with the epitaph, D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent (Besides, it’s always the others who die)

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