Marcel Duchamp Gallery

French Artist Marcel Duchamp

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French Artist Marcel Duchamp

Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was a French painter, sculptor, chess player, and writer whose work is associated with Cubism, Dada, and conceptual art. Duchamp is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.

Duchamp has had an immense impact on twentieth-century and twenty first-century art, and he had a seminal influence on the development of conceptual art. By the time of World War I he had rejected the work of many of his fellow artists (such as Henri Matisse) as “retinal” art, intended only to please the eye. Instead, Duchamp wanted to use art to serve the mind. 

(UK: /ˈdjuːʃɒ̃/, US: /djuːˈʃɒ̃, djuːˈʃɑːmp/, French: [maʁsɛl dyʃɑ̃]; 28 July 1887 – 2 October 1968)

Early life and education

Marcel Duchamp was born at Blainville-Crevon in Normandy, France, to Eugène Duchamp and Lucie Duchamp (formerly Lucie Nicolle) and grew up in a family that enjoyed cultural activities. The art of painter and engraver Émile Frédéric Nicolle, his maternal grandfather, filled the house, and the family liked to play chess, read books, paint, and make music together.

Of Eugene and Lucie Duchamp’s seven children, one died as an infant and four became successful artists. Marcel Duchamp was the brother of:

Jacques Villon (1875–1963), painter, printmaker
Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876–1918), sculptor
Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti (1889–1963), painter.

As a child, with his two elder brothers already away from home at school in Rouen, Duchamp was closer to his sister Suzanne, who was a willing accomplice in games and activities conjured by his fertile imagination. At eight years old, Duchamp followed in his brothers’ footsteps when he left home and began schooling at the Lycée Pierre-Corneille, in Rouen. Two other students in his class also became well-known artists and lasting friends: Robert Antoine Pinchon and Pierre Dumont. For the next eight years, he was locked into an educational regime which focused on intellectual development. Though he was not an outstanding student, his best subject was mathematics and he won two mathematics prizes at the school. He also won a prize for drawing in 1903, and at his commencement in 1904 he won a coveted first prize, validating his recent decision to become an artist.

He learned academic drawing from a teacher who unsuccessfully attempted to “protect” his students from Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and other avant-garde influences. However, Duchamp’s true artistic mentor at the time was his brother Jacques Villon, whose fluid and incisive style he sought to imitate. At 14, his first serious art attempts were drawings and watercolors depicting his sister Suzanne in various poses and activities. That summer he also painted landscapes in an Impressionist style using oils.

The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art is proud to present DUCHAMP and/or/in CHINA, an exhibition featuring works by Marcel Duchamp and Chinese artists influenced by his work. Opening April 27, 2013 and running through June 16, the exhibition centers on Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, a “portable museum” consisting of miniature reproductions of his key works, shown for the first time in Beijing. Literally translated “box in a suitcase” this work serves as a centerpiece for the exhibition, with additional context provided by related Duchamp works and works by Chinese artists. Taking its title from the subtitle of the boîte-en-valise itself (“by or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Selavy”), this exhibition is both the most comprehensive exhibition of Duchamp’s work yet mounted in China, and an investigation into Duchamp’s lingering influence on the development of contemporary art in China.

While the Boîte-en-valise will take center stage in the UCCA Long Gallery, it will be flanked by 30 other works by Duchamp, as well as works by more than 15 Chinese artists including Huang Yong Ping, Wu Shanzhuan, Wang Luyan, Song Dong, Lee Kit, and Ai Weiwei. The exhibition is curated by Francis Naumann and John Tancock, with the assistance of Paula Tsai. Naumann and Tancock are New York-based scholar-curators who together have a deep knowledge of Duchamp and a strong understanding of contemporary Chinese art. On the selection of artists for the exhibition, Tancock notes that the artists featured are those who have “clearly demonstrated their interest in Duchamp or whose work seems to be in fundamental sympathy with his aims and methods”. Duchamp’s legacy is so various and far-reaching it would be impossible to provide a complete survey of his impact on Chinese art. This exhibition seeks to shed light on the ways in which some of the questions raised by Duchamp’s work and central to the very ideas of modernity and conceptual art have travelled and been translated through the 20th and 21st centuries.

DUCHAMP and/or/in CHINA is presented in partnership with the Embassy of France in China as part of the 2013 Croisements festival.


The Boîte-en-valise was begun in 1935 and completed in 1941. It was produced in an edition of 300 examples, but released in various formats through the remaining years of Duchamp’s life, the edition finally completed after his death in 1968 by his widow, Alexina. The first 20 boxes in the edition were all placed in a leather suitcase hence the name, Box in a Valise, and considered “deluxe” because they each contain a unique item. The edition being presented at UCCA is notable for the bright red leather of the box, and contains 80 reproductions of different Duchamp works. A number of works reproduced for the valise will also be shown in other forms in this exhibition, including both an aquatint and pochoir version of Duchamp’s Bride, and a pochoir version of Nude Descending a Staircase – a painting that caused great controversy when it appeared at the first Armory Show in New York in 1913, exactly a century ago. The pochoir method was used to make the reproductions for the valise, but separate hand-colored prints were also produced for sale in order to help fund the project.

In total, 31 Duchamp works will be shown, ranging from reproductions of paintings to magazine covers featuring ingenious typographic work and striking prints. Duchamp often asked the publishers of the art and literary magazines he designed for to run off extra rounds of copies for collection in his “museum”. Etchings and posters from historic exhibitions complete the array of Duchamp pieces that will be shown at UCCA.


Duchamp’s legacy in China is discernible both in terms of the take-up and development of specific ideas that his art put forward, as well as in echoes of his lifestyle and attitude to work that can be traced in the practice of certain contemporary artists.

In the 1980s, as China began to engage with the art history of the Western twentieth century, artists like Wu Shanzhuan and Huang Yong Ping found direct inspiration in Duchamp. Huang Yong Ping, who founded a Duchampian collective called Xiamen Dada in the mid-1980s before emigrating to Paris, reflected in 1987 that, “Only now am I really able to understand the state of mind that made Duchamp say, ‘The traditional idea of the painter with his brush, his palette, his turpentine, is an idea which has already disappeared from my life.’ This is a revolutionary and irreversible change for me.”

Another artist who has repeatedly revisited Duchamp’s legacy throughout his career is Ai Weiwei. Exposed to Duchamp during his decade-long sojourn in New York (1983-1993), Ai Weiwei has remarked that “The entire value of any work of art is only ever conceptual. After Duchamp, the existence of any art, its value, is entirely conceptual. Duchamp brought a new concept to modern art.”

During the 1990s and early 2000s, a subsequent generation of Chinese artists including Yan Lei, Song Dong, and Zheng Guogu continued to mine Duchamp’s influence. Yan Lei, who shows a painting from his ‘Covers’ series depicting Duchamp’s Fountain as rendered on the cover of a Taschen monograph—an appropriation of an appropriation—and Zheng Guogu, who transformed a series of ordinary plastic bottles into brass at the turn of the twenty-first century, both echoing Duchamp’s famous ‘bottle rack’ readymade and his sense of punnery with the title ‘Let it Rust for another 2000 Years’.

Duchamp’s legacy has also served as the inspiration for performances, some of which have directly engaged his works. In 2000, the artists Cai Yuan and Xi Jianjun staged a performance at the Tate Modern where they urinated on Duchamp’s iconic readymade, Fountain, restoring the object to its original purpose. Wu Shanzhuan, for his part, realized a similar performance eight years earlier in Stockholm, Sweden. Meanwhile in Shanghai in 2004, a group of artists including Xu Zhen, Yang Zhenzhong, and Shi Yong staged a project titled “Dial 62761232 Courier Exhibition” for which numerous artists created works small enough to be fit into a single suitcase and transported around Shanghai by a courier, in a contemporary take on the Bôite-en-valise.

Even more recently, a younger group of artists including Zhao Zhao, Lee Kit, and Taca Sui have reflected on Duchamp, incorporating his influence into more meditative works. Some three decades after Duchamp’s work was first introduced to China in early translations of Western art historical tomes, his life and work remain of deep interest to artists and intellectuals here.

French Artist Marcel Duchamp
French Artist Marcel Duchamp

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