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Original Creators: Avant-Garde Prankster Marcel Duchamp

Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Marcel Duchamp.

“Generate ideas, no matter how wild or far-fetched, and enable new associations to be made in the gray matter of your brain.” — Marcel Duchamp

French artist Marcel Duchamp’s playful, provocative and subversive artworks are testament to the idea that having fun and not taking yourself too seriously is a recipe for success. Considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Duchamp’s early work was influenced by the schools of Surrealism, Dadaism and Orphism (a more colorful take on Cubism), but he’s probably best known for his “Readymades” series—where he slightly altered everyday objects and placed them into new contexts. His most recognizable work, Fountain, is merely a urinal, turned upside down, given an artist’s signature, and showcased in a gallery setting.

After he moved to New York, Duchamp fell in with artists like Katherine Dreier and Man Ray and began exploring art dealing and collecting. He continued to produce Readymades while working on The Large Glass, essentially a mash-up of three of his earlier projects, which he worked on over an eight-year period.

He also dabbled in kinetic art and collaborated with Ray on several works, including Rotative plaques verre, optique de précision, coining the term “mobiles” for these kinds of mechanical sculptures. Duchamp also modeled in a series of Ray’s photographs, portraying himself as a woman named Rose Sélavy.

Duchamp challenged the very definition of art, legitimizing ideas as artworks of their own. He advised collectors like Peggy Guggenheim and (then) MoMA directors Alfred Barr and James Jonson Sweeny, directly impacting what we see in museums’ collections today. As a champion of paradox and perpetuator of “anti-art,” Duchamp eventually decided to leave the art world to pursue chess full-time, even collaborating with John Cage in a performance where they rigged chess pieces to produce sound.

Marcel Duchamp on BBC TV 1966

His influence can be seen most notably in the works of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg—and every year the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris awards the Prix Marcel Duchamp award to a young artist who invokes the creator’s spirit. Given the nature of his work, we also think he could be an influence on street artists and hackers today, as he favored puns and untraditional canvasses and mediums.

Image via fuckyeahduchamp.tumblr.com

Here are some of Duchamp’s most notable artworks, for a more in-depth look at his oeuvra visit Andrew Stafford’s interactive website.

Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2 (1912)

Bicycle Wheel (1913)

“I enjoyed looking at it just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace.” — Marcel Duchamp

Fountain (1917)

The work is signed R. Mutt, one of Duchamp’s aliases.

The Large Glass (1913-23)

Rrose Sélavy (1921); photographed by Man Ray

Reunion (1968); with John Cage

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