0115 966 7955 Today's Opening Times 10:00 - 20:00 (BST)
Banner ad for Viper plagiarism checker

Marcel Duchamp's Influences on Modern Art

Published: Last Edited:

Disclaimer: This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers. You can view samples of our professional work here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Marcel Duchamp's Influence on 20th/21st Century Art

1: Introduction

The influence of Duchamp’s notion of readymade art has had widespread and profound connotations for the development of art in the 20th and 21st century. Firstly, Duchamp’s art attempted to avoid many of the traditions of art at the time; his use of readymades stigmatised the notion of the artist as a creator. This radical redefinition of the role of artist informed future Conceptual artists in their attempts to relocate the boundaries that would define their role. Duchamp’s role was precisely the opposite role as those artists concerned about formulating an ideal form of subjective expression – Duchamp was more concerned about the political role of the artist and the institutions that serve to create art, rather than of the production of art itself. His readymade work challenges many of these conceptions and institutions by drawing attention to the political and social processes behind the production of art. Secondly, Duchamp’s readymade work also broadened what could be defined as art. This placed art within a broader philosophical, structural and linguistic field of discourse in which the placement of art was more ephemeral. Ultimately, Duchamp’s project was to untie and disassemble art entirely; this is linked to the postmodern notion that categories and objects do not possess any inherent meaning, but only contain the meanings that we ourselves assign to them. As such, Duchamp’s legacy in both a practical and a theoretical and philosophical sense has served to inform cultural and artistic debate throughout the 20th century, from Jasper Johns, to pop art, performance art and other forms of avant-garde art that challenge the underlying principles behind artistic production.

Duchamp’s readymade has left a profound legacy across the board of contemporary art for a number of reasons. Responses to the readymade and the challenge that it poses for a redefined art divorced from the artefact are widespread. Firstly, the elevation of a readymade work of art alters the role of the artist in the production process: Buchloh comments that the extent of Duchamp’s influence on art can be answered by responding to three particular points for discussion. Firstly, he suggests that Duchamp’s influence can be seen in how “the specific forms of how traditional forms of mark-making can be displaced by an exclusively photographic or textual operation of recording and documentation” (Buskirk & Nixon, 205). The impact of this method is to erode and to redefine the role of artist. Whereas we can say that the classical and modernist form of the artist was to present us with a version of reality authenticated by the presence of the artist and the subjective aesthetic rules that made that artist “good” or “bad”, Duchamp’s readymade work, namely The Fountain, challenges this approach by stressing the role of the artist as a collector and an assembler rather than as a creator. Because it is obvious that Duchamp’s Fountain would not be considered a work of art if it were presented to us in a lavatory, Duchamp highlights and challenges the prejudices inherent to artistic production: namely, the traditional methods for artistic production and for “mark-making” are redefined and with it, the artist. Of course, this implication has had a profound impact on the development of 20th and 21st century art, from Jasper John’s flags to Warhol’s pop art, and has served to change the material conditions behind the production of art. The mechanistic connotations invoked by Duchamp and his readymade radically challenges and redefines the aesthetic palette available to artists; Duchamp’s influence was to challenge the subjective aesthetic of artistic production – Duchamp’s systemic use of a readymade on the one hand broadens the philosophical and conceptual basis for art production while on the other hand exposing the fallacies of art production in its more traditional sense. Of course, the impacts of this challenge have served to inform critical debate about the role of the artist in art ever since.

2: Readymades In Advance of The Broken Arm, Trebuchet (Trap), Hat Rack, Bicycle Wheel, Bottle Dryer, Air de Paris (400 words)

“The elevation of a common object to the level of a work of art did not consist in merely choosing and signing it. It implied following a set of four rules: de-contextualisation, titling, limiting the frequency of the act and, the most esoteric of all, the necessity of a ‘rendez-vous’ – the meeting of the artist and the object” (Schwarz, 126).

Duchamp’s readymade also served to interrogate the principles by which we define objects themselves; because Duchamp’s readymade work inherently interrogates the status of objects by changing their relation to one-another, it can be asserted that Duchamp’s project was to challenge how categories and objects are defined by their intrinsic properties rather than by their relationship to their broader environment.

Buchloh points out that Duchamp facilitated the “radical dismantling of all traditional definitions of objects and categories – the ‘dematerialisation of the work of art,’ as Lucy Lippard called it – and its transfer onto the linguistic, the photographic, and the site-specific operations within which Conceptual art was defined” (Buskirk & Nixon, 205). Of course, the linguistic and structural properties of Duchamp’s readymade serves to interrogate and dismantle the traditional role of artist. It also broadens the scope and the context of art itself. However, perhaps more significantly, the nature of Duchamp’s readymade does not allow for a particularly easy redefinition of art’s aesthetic role. For example, if it is asserted that Duchamp’s role was to reposition items of artistic worth and to place them into the political space of a gallery, this highlights the political rather than the aesthetic role of the gallery and the artist in measuring items of subjective worth. In addition, Duchamp’s process of selection is also telling:

“The great problem was the act of selection. I had to pick an object without it impressing me and, as far as possible, without the least intervention of any idea or suggestion of aesthetic pleasure. It was necessary to reduce my personal taste to zero. It is very difficult to select an object that has absolutely no interest for us not only the day we pick it but which never will and which, finally, can never have the possibility of becoming beautiful, pretty, agreeable or ugly” (Paz, 88).

Duchamp’s aim, therefore, was to divorce art from its meanings and from the methods of judgement that are usually assigned to it. His desire to locate an object that had absolutely no interest whatsoever highlights both his desire to challenge the centrality of the artistic object, and also helps us to trace his legacy through what can be construed as an attempt to apply Duchamp’s philosophical theory on locating a work of art that can never be “beautiful, pretty, agreeable or ugly”, and the inevitable failure entrenched within the politics of the readymade: despite Duchamp’s intention to create art that did not have any meaning, the assignation of meaning to Duchamp’s readymades as a series of fetishised objects seemed inevitable and also influenced other Conceptual artists in their project to erode the stability and the legitimacy of the artefact via a number of means: the fetishisation of art in late capitalism, for example, causes art to amass a capitalistic value regardless of whether the artist him or herself wishes for a value to be attached to it.

Trebuchet: a coat rack, which means a “trap for small birds and is a pun on the phonetically identical ‘trebucher’, meaning to stumble over.” (Schwarz 126-7).

Section 3: Duchamp as Rrose Selavy (400 words)

Duchamp and the dada movement in general were concerned about elucidating through irony and humour the role of the artist in the production process. Although the concept of the readymade changed this role from that of creator to selector of appropriate works of art, the role and identity of the artist was questioned in a more thoroughly mocking way with his invention of his female alter-ego, Rrose Selavy, whom several works of art were ascribed to. Naumann (2008) suggests that the invention of Rrose Selavy served the grander purposes and preoccupations of Duchamp’s work, whose interests and themes include “disguise, reflection and signature” (70). Taken generally, the invention of an alter-ego who has as much artistic authority as the artist himself serves to obfuscate, delude and disorient the viewer of the art in itself; the notion of disguise functions as a means of disrupting the traditional role of the artist as singular creator of the work in question. Rrose Selavy also has a performance aspect to it, which, among other things, helps to blur the boundaries between the work of art and the artist himself.

Along with this, Duchamp’s alter-ego also has obvious connotations through the paradigm of gender studies. The peculiarities of Rrose Selavy’s role is particularly problematic concerning this. As well as satirising the role of artist, the construction of Rrose Selavy also expressed many of the reservations expressed by Duchamp about the increasingly blurred boundaries between gender. Hopkins (2008) argues that Duchamp’s views were deeply conservative regarding the growing concern over gender equality: “he was deeply wary of the growing autonomy and mannishness of contemporary ‘liberated’ women. […] The evident preoccupation with gender indeterminacy […] became thematized conclusively in the photographs of his female alter ego Rrose Selavy” (Hopkins, 81). But while Rrose Selavy can be read as a satire of the mannish women who had become increasingly empowered in 1920s France, the role of Selavy could also be seen as a satire of the “traditional” French aristocratic woman, whose conservative sensibilities are also mocked by Duchamp’s character.

This problematic is also supported by the texts that frequently anchored the print representations of Rrose Selavy. Litterature magazine tagged one of his portraits with the following sentence: “Here is the Domain of Rrose Selavy – how arid it is – how fertile – how joyous – how sad” (from Hopkins 2008, 87), which demonstrates warmth and empathy with Rrose Selavy rather than irony or satire. Hopkins adds that “The Paris group may well have understood Duchamp to be killing off his old ‘dry’, dusty male persona and being reborn as Rrose (Eros).” (Hopkins, 86-7).

Section 4: Duchamp’s use of language, wordplay, puns, paradoxes and humour in his work Fresh Widow, Why Not Sneeze Rrose Selavy, L.H.O.O.Q., Ready Made Rectified (Wanted $2000 Reward) (400 words)

Duchamp’s assault on the art establishments and its values was executed in a manner that used a great deal of wordplay, irony and often cryptic allusion to more salacious and scandalous depths. Fresh Widow, for example, features a play on the words for French Window and can be read, as Hopkins comments, as “a salacious allusion to the sexual availability of bereaved women in Paris after the war”. Other puns assist in denigrating the stature of the traditional artistic canon by anchoring them in a completely different, and somewhat lewder context. This eroticism is exemplified by Duchamp’s famous work, “L. H. O. O. Q.”. Mundy (2008) suggests that humour and eroticism were key components to this Dada aesthetic, as Duchamp reinvented himself as a woman, disfigured a Mona Lisa with a moustache and printed underneath the letters “L. H. O. O. Q.” which, in French when pronounced phonetically translates as “she has a hot arse”. The intention of this clearly stems from an attempt to intentionally sabotage works treated with reverence by the establishments at the time by using sexual innuendo and wordplay. In addition, the linguistic addition draws attention to what exists outside of Da Vinci’s original framing, perhaps drawing attention to extraneous factors in artistic production and reproduction that cannot be framed as easily.

In many respects, the titles of Duchamp’s works have almost as great a significance as the works themselves; Mundy (2008) comments that this focus intentionally blurs the boundaries between traditional points of anchorage in the artistic production process: “The title-cum-impossible-question of another readymade, Why Not Sneeze Selavy?, posits unfathomable relationships between objective reality and subjective intentionality” (35). Paradox between different elements of the sculpture are brought into question and serve to defy simple, certain interpretation.

Duchamp’s famous readymade The Fountain challenges the utilitarian role of the urinal by placing the signature horizontally rather than vertically, thus metamorphosing the work into a piece of art by defying its utilitarian purpose. For de Duve, the challenge of Duchamp’s legacy is, in part, linguistic: “I went straight for what I think to be the heart of the issue, namely the status of the sentence: ‘this is art.’ It entails no definition or redefinition whatsoever, neither of ‘this,’ nor of ‘art.’ To take a shortcut, I’d say it is the modern formula for the aesthetic judgement” (213). Because Duchamp primarily and explicitly asserts that his fountain is art because it is socially defined as such (by its location, its reception etc.), he places art within an unfamiliar field of discourse – namely that, anything can be seen as art providing it is anchored by the notion that what is being done is art. As such, Duchamp’s interrogates and problematizes any objective qualities that may have previously been considered “artistic” by nature. Of course, this has impacted significantly on conceptual and avant-garde art throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

His work Ready Made Rectified utilises Rrose Selavy by juxtaposing his own portrait with a wanted poster, on the one hand emphasising his role as enfant terrible of the artistic establishment and drawing ironical attention to the fallacious nature of the spectacle in itself. Humour and irony is always used to expose these central paradoxes and to create a detachment between the various angles that are interrogated by these pieces. Mundy (2008) suggests that, for Duchamp, “humour is always of a tragic nature. Humour signals a total independence of mind and is, essentially, a revolt of the spirit and of the unconscious against the conditioning of life and society. Humour has an endless power to challenge and provoke. It is a factor of opposition, superbly subversive in so far as it establishes a victory of the pleasure principle over the reality principle.” (35).

Section 5: Duchamp’s work with Chance Three Standard Stoppages (400 words)

Duchamp also interrogates the place of art in society by using chance operations. Three Standard Stoppages provides an example of this strategy, and again serves to undermine and interrogate the role of artist in the production process, as well as interrogating a number of other devices and standards. Firstly, Three Standard Stoppages draws attention to the authority of standardised meters. Judovitz (1995) suggests that, because the work is on the one hand based on standardised measurement, but on the other hand does not produce consistent results, undermines the legitimacy of “universal” systems of measurement, which has metaphorical connotations for the way in which value judgements are made: “it demonstrates the recognition that the meter itself as a unit of length is generated through approximation: the straightening out, as it were, of a curved meridian. Duchamp sets the viewer straight by graphically showing that the authority of the meter as a measuring device relies upon distortions that he corrects through chance operations” (Judovitz 1995, 48).

In addition, the work also interrogates notions of artistic authority: Three Standard Stoppages “puts into question the voluntaristic and intentional logic that defines the creative act and the identity of the artist. To assume chance as a locus for production is to understand causality itself not as an origin but as a productive event, whose plasticity can redefine the notion of artistic creativity” (Judovitz 1995, 49). The utilisation of chance, therefore, metaphorically serves to emphasise the temporal element of artistic production – the “traditional” role of the artist as an objective, isolated producer of universal and timeless works is drawn into question by these chance operations. As such, the prior legitimacy of artistic creativity being equated to notions of timelessness are jeopardized.

Section 6: Duchamp (or more accurately his alter-ego Rrose Selavy) The Green Box the use of Photomechanical Printing, instead of the usual autographic printing methods (400 words)

The use of unusual printing methods in Duchamp’s The Green Box draws significant attention to the traditional methods associated with mechanical reproduction of works of art. The mechanical drawings of The Green Box, combined with the intentionally disruptive printing methods utilised draw attention to the very process of printing and the relationship between mass production techniques and the innately singular nature of hand-made works of art. Judovitz suggests that Duchamp’s use of mechanical drawing does not base itself around physical or scientific principles. Instead, “they represent a ‘symbolic way of explaining,’ one that privileges the logic of the machine, only to reveal its ironic underpinnings” (Judovitz 1995, 58). Significantly, the use of photomechanical printing further emphasises the problematic nature of these drawings which, on the one hand aesthetically reproduce the visual methods of mechanical drawing, while on the other hand is representative of a more outlandish, pseudoscientific principle that disrupts the legitimacy of the rubric, codes and language used to construct such mechanical, scientific devices. The use of photomechanical technology to construct these prints also draws attention to the more invisible process of production, rather than to the mere surface of the production itself.

The legacy of Duchamp’s mixing and matching of various print processes has been widespread, both in terms of its philosophical qualities (questioning the authority of a single method of printing, and of the singular importance of a single work of art) and also its more technical aspects. Of course, this interrogation of the notion of artistic originality can be found in pop art, that reconciled notions of art, commerce and mass production in the generation of works of art that were no more artistically meaningful (meaningful in the traditional sense) than mass produced wallpaper or a newspaper advertisement. Thirkell (2005) comments that “Duchamp’s questioning of the notion of originality has also had a profound influence on modern print, ultimately triggering the revolution in print expression exemplified by photomechanically driven vehicle of Pop Art.” The Green Box, therefore, in its playfulness with printing processes would prove influential in the emerging debate surrounding artistic legitimacy, authority and originality.

Section 7: Duchamp’s work in Optics in Motion Rotary Demisphere, Rotaryrelease (400 words)

Many of Duchamp’s optical works focussed on optical illusion and the ambiguity of depth perception. His Rotoreliefs in particular create the illusion of depth and draw attention to the role of the artist as a magician or trickster. In addition, many of these works also had erotic connotations, as the voyeuristic proclivities of the viewer of the art are made explicit by overt and metaphorical sexualised content. Mundy (2008) comments that the Rotoreliefs and their disorientating movement echoes that of eroticism: “the visual sensation of movement back and forth had an erotic undertone” (31). This work in optics was also drawn from Picabia’s optical work, which was more overtly eroticised (Octophone II, for example). This draws attention to the innately subjective nature of sexualised imagery, and suggests that sexual content somehow alters and transfigures the technical quality of art in itself; by suggesting that sexuality is in itself a subjective illusion, Duchamp erodes the boundary that is arbitrarily placed between the art and the consumer of the artistic product. Mundy suggests that “he took the eroticisation of vision – the power of the corporeal and mental responses to control the interpretation of what is seen – to new heights” (31). This fragmentation of the process of interpretation serves metaphorically to activate the subjective, sensual feelings of the viewer of the art, who interprets the illusion as though is was not illusory. The use of optical illusion questions the boundary between what is “real” and what is “illusory”, as the eyes of the viewer effectively trick the viewer into perceiving the illusion as real.

Perspective and depth and its illusory nature is made explicit by Duchamp’s works in optics. In Hand Stereoscopy, special glasses are required to give the work a level of depth, and also equates the use of colour and the use of depth: Judovitz comments that “these dots of pigment are the projection of the perspectival (mathematical) principles underlying optics” (138-9). In addition, the drawing together of depth illusions and colour serves to blur and make explicit the relationship between these technical attributes of the artistic product itself: as Duchamp himself suggests, “perspective resembles color” (Sanouillet & Peterson 1973, 87).

Section 8: Duchamp’s work influencing artists:Cornell: Duchamp’s work With Hidden Noise influenced Cornell’s Untitled (Rattle and Music Box); Cornell’s Cabinet of Natural History (Object) (one of the bottles containing shards of glass and labelled Methode de M. Duchamp) alludes to Duchamp’s work The Large Glass. Box Assemblages have become the process for Cornell’s entire oeuvre. (400 words)

The legacy of Duchamp’s work has been significant, as many artists serve to draw attention (either explicit attention or implicit, coded reference) to the themes and codes of Duchamp’s disruptive oeuvre. Perhaps the most explicit reference to Duchamp’s legacy can be found in the work of Cornell, whose works drew directly from Duchamp and utilised much of his iconography. In particular, his Untitled works, such as Mona Lisa, Rattle and Music Box serve to use imagery popularised by Duchamp; in the former piece, the Mona Lisa in placed in a significantly different context, perhaps drawing more attention to Duchamp’s Mona Lisa of L. H. O. O. Q. than it does the original. The repetition of this imagery also draws attention to the mechanical processes of production that Duchamp used to interrogate the notion of the artist as a producer of singular works of art.

Cornell’s use of readymade works can also be traced back directly to the influence of Duchamp. His Cabinet of Natural History, for example, is an assemblage of various found pieces of art placed in a glass cabinet. Apothecary bottles, maps and photographs are recontextualised in a manner thematically similar to Duchamp. In addition, Duchamp is also referenced directly, as if to interrogate further the concept of artistic authority and originality: Kosinski (2006) notes that “one bottle, containing shards of glass and labelled ‘Methode de M. Duchomp’ alludes to Duchamp’s key work, the Large Glass while playfully toying with the correct pronunciation of his French name” (39). The significance of Duchamp to Cornell is made explicit by the direct reference he makes to Duchamp’s legacy. In addition, his use of economy and meticulous, scientific rigour echoes the attention to detail of Duchamp’s scientific works. Thirdly, Cornell uses linguistic anchorage, wordplay and the discrepancy between speech and writing (via the use of puns and misspellings) in a manner that echoes Duchamp’s work that places classical works of antiquity within a surprising new context.

Section 9: Duchamp’s work influencing artists: Johns: Johns work Device makes reference to diagrams and sketches found in Duchamp’s Green Box. Johns acknowledged the powerful provocation of the readymade in his work Thoughts on Duchamps, published in1969 in Art in America. (400 words)

Duchamp’s aesthetic statements on the role of artist was explored in an aesthetic sense by artists such as Jasper Johns, whose use of flags and collage sought to redefine what was considered as authentic art, Duchamp’s legacy also permeates into more conceptual fields. Buchloh comments that “the legacy of Duchamp was transformed from its first level of reception in the work of Jasper Johns to the second level in Morris – what one might call the semiological, or the structural / linguistic axis” (205). The effect of Duchamp on Jasper Johns is, by Johns own admission, significant. Again, Johns utilises Duchamp’s iconography and reformulates classical imagery in a manner that echoes Duchamp’s original idea to redefine the role of the Mona Lisa. For example, in Johns ambitious work The Seasons, explicit attention is drawn to the figure of the Mona Lisa in the first of the four paintings. Kosinski comments that irony is utilised in a manner that resembles the work of Duchamp himself: “The shadow in each panel of The Seasons is Johns himself, melancholic perhaps and surely self referential, although it is executed after a drawing of his cast shadow that was executed by someone else. This game of ironic distance is surely rooted in Duchamp’s play with shadow portraits” (32). This drawing of attention away from the subject and onto peripheral objects surrounding the subject draws immediately from Duchamp’s attempts to raise speculation about the single classical subject of painting. In addition, the dual authorship of these pieces raises questions about artistic integrity in a manner similar to Duchamp.

Section 10: Duchamp’s work influencing artists: Rauschenberg: Duchamp’s influence is present in Rauschenberg’s boxes.

He was influenced by With Hidden Noise for his work Music Box (Elemental Sculpture). (400 words) Thirdly, Duchamp’s legacy is explicitly referenced in the works of Rauschenberg, which look at the different ways in which the relationship between artistic modes of production and the increasingly fraught and disturbed relationship between artist and viewer. Rauschenberg’s Music Box (Elemental Sculpture), for instance, bears significant resemblance to Duchamp’s readymade With Hidden Noise, which demands the viewer to activate the piece in order for it to make a sound. The challenge that this poses for the viewer is similar to that of Rauschenberg: “Unwieldy, the box demands the physical engagement of the spectator-turned-performer, and the central issue is not the mysterious hidden object, but rather the potential sound itself, and the implied demands on the viewer to wrestle with the cumbersome crate” (Kosinski 2006, 19). The boxes that demand the attention of the viewer, and disturb the cherished role and piece of the artistic piece disturbs and challenges the traditionally voyeuristic relationship between the artist and the work in question. In addition, Rauschenberg’s boxes are more expansive in their approach to the role of art in the society that surrounds them; in a manner similar to Duchamp’s readymades, Rauschenberg takes directly from the society that surrounds it rather than approaching the production of art in a purely “creative” sense. Of course, this draws significantly upon the thematic content of Duchamp’s legacy, and draws explicit attention to the paradoxes and the frustrations that both artists had with the traditionally impotent role of art regarding the broader society that served to pigeonhole it.

Rauschenberg’s process, while drawing upon Duchamp’s legacy, serves to reappropriate many of its central motifs and preoccupations in a manner that distinguishes it from the work of Cornell and Johns. While both Cornell and Rauschenberg utilised boxes in a manner that drew upon the work of Duchamp to frame its preoccupations, the nature and the content of these boxes were very different in their overall thematic context: “Cornell’s boxes are highly refined and rich in their variety of cultural allusion.” Kosinski (2006, 44) comments: “Rauschenberg’s early boxes, though small, are cruder, atavistic and dangerous rather than delightful” (44). As such Rauschenberg can be seen as taking a specific element of Duchamp’s thematic approach to readymade art and pushing it to its logical conclusion; his work is more confrontation than Cornell, who sought to beautify and protect his modified readymades by placing them in a more aesthetically pleasing context, surrounding them in glass, etc. Rauschenberg’s work, by contrast, offers a more directly political assault on the establishment ethics at the time, drawing more upon Duchamp’s concept of the readymade as “junk from life” (Kosinski 2006, 46).

Section 11: Duchamp’s work influencing artists: Robert Morris: Morris’s work Mirrored Cubes is influenced by Duchamp’s Green Box. Morris’s Three Rulers was influenced by Duchamp’s Three Stoppages. (400 words)

The work of Robert Morris is also framed significantly by the central paradoxes opened up by dada and by Duchamp in particular. It’s attention, according to Benjamin Buchlow, is secondary to the primary reception in the artists described above. Here, the response to Duchamp’s work is based on “what one might call the semiological, or the structural / linguistic axis” (Buskirk and Nixon, 205). By this, Buchlow suggests that Morris’s Cardfile piece in particular draws attention to these categories of meaning regarding the tension between artistic subjectivity and anonymity. The development of Conceptual art in America, which is epitomised by Morris’s problematic work which draws attention to notions of artistic validity and of the tension between this structural and linguistic axis, is heavily indebted to the particular tensions opened up by Duchamp and his technical works which oriented itself around an exploration of the role of subjectivity in the artist. While this is drawn attention to, it is significant to note that the problematic surrounding artistic subjectivity in a given artistic piece continues to remain prevalent even in Morris’s deeply deconstructive and polymorphous work. Alberro comments that “Behind the Duchamp / Morris legacy I always see the figure of the artist; the artist / agent is always there. It’s there in both Duchamp and Morris, even in the Cardfile where he’s trying to remove it” (209). Thus, the drawing of attention to the purely linguistic sphere in Morris’s work equates to Duchamps utilisation of processes of artistic production that were traditionally outside of the traditional camp of visual, plastic art production. Like the readymades, Morris’s Cardfile is conceptual as it draws explicit attention to its own inherent aesthetic meaninglessness. It does not connote anything by itself; rather, it is defined by its context as an exhibition piece. In addition, its purely linguistic role serves to disturb the previous aesthetic determinants of giving a piece artistic value as such.

The role of artist in Duchamp’s readymade has been transfigured in a radical way into a political and social figure – namely, he is not defined by the artwork that he / she produces, but is defined by his / her position within the political space offered – this is explored by conceptual artists such as Robert Morris and in performance art where the artist does not decide to entrench himself in the dogmas of an accepted aesthetic tradition, and does not distance himself from the work he produces by creating an artistic artefact. Duchamp’s readymade challenges this notion of artistic stability by issuing a challenging statement about art itself. Morris’s performance art which locates itself on-site and does not create a central physical node around which values can amass can be politically aligned within a similar field to Duchamp’s questions about the notion of plastic art production and values; the initial problematization of both the structural role of art and of the subjective role of the artist as an agent within the overall artistic production process by Duchamp can be traced through Johns, Rauschenberg and Cornell into the purely Conceptual art of Morris, which looks at ways in which the primacy of the modernist legitimacy of the artistic object can be degraded and interrogated to create new questions concerning artistic authority and legitimacy.

Section 12: Duchamp’s work influencing artists: Man Ray: Man Ray’s Danger/Dancer is a direct response to Duchamp’s Large Glass. The Large Glass influenced Man Ray’s Dust Bleeding. Man Ray’s Le Pere de la Joconde was influenced by Duchamp’s Mona Lisa L.H.O.O.Q. (400words)

Man Ray’s Danger / Dancer explicitly references Duchamp’s optical works, as well as drawing from Duchamp’s linguistic proclivities and double entendre. The juxtaposition between mechanical machinery and humanistic expression draws specific attention to the various tensions between visual representation, and artistic originality: Ades (2008) comments that “Danger / Dancer brings together diagrammatic, mechanical precision in the flat, exact circular forms of the cog wheels and the illusionistic effects of the airbrush” (94). Firstly, this work echoes many of the preoccupations with the specific nuances of the language and rubric of artistic production. The use of a diagrammatic style to articulate the movements of a dancer, rather than the use of expressionistic or impressionistic modes or reproduction serves to highlight the Dadaist preoccupation with finding new methods that add tension to the problematic role of the artist in a post First World War context. Secondly, Danger / Dancer exposes the very difficulty of finding an appropriate method of expression after the devastating impacts of the First World War, and the effects that it had on notions of human progress in itself. The irony of using a mechanistic methodology in the treatment of something as innately human and traditionally oriented as dance echoes Duchamp’s preoccupations with the mechanisation of artistic production and of artistic expression on the whole.

Section 13: Other Artists that have been influenced were Louise Lawler Castelli (Gift Certificate) influenced by Duchamp’s cheques; Sherrie Levine’s work Fountain influenced by Duchamp’s Fountain. Boggs’ reproduction of money was influenced by Duchamp’s cheques and bonds. (300 words)

Explicit references to Duchamp’s work and its ironically charged potential can be seen to inform the debates and the arguments surrounding modern-day post avant-garde and Conceptual work. Levine’s work Fountain draws explicit attention to the manner in which the legacy of Duchamp’s Fountain has failed to fully disintegrate the notion of artistic primacy, thus drawing specific attention to the failure of Duchamp in fully exploiting his troublesome relationship with notions of artistic authority. By reframing and recasting Duchamp’s original work, Levine serves to draw attention to the aesthetic attributes of Duchamp’s urinal. In addition, Levine serves to change the ownership of the work of art in a manner similar to Duchamp himself. Effectively, Levine reverses the process by which Duchamp recast his readymades in the context of placing them in an exhibition room, by drawing attention to the aesthetic, artistic methods of production that surround Duchamp’s works. Similarly, Bogg’s reproduction of money was influenced by Duchamp’s cheques and bonds, while Louise Lawler Castelli’s Gift Certificate also drew specifically from Duchamp’s cheques and bonds, reframing them in a different light. Section 14: Conclusion bring together and summarise all the issues raised and conclude that Duchamp had a pioneering influence on 20th/21st century art. (600 words)

Duchamp’s legacy throughout the 20th and 21st centuries on Conceptual art has been to challenge many of the ingrained value judgements and aesthetic considerations that had, according to Duchamp, led to the stagnation of art. However, despite Duchamp’s superficially radical exposition and redefinition of art, he also allowed scope for progress; Duchamp’s influence therefore has been to challenge many of the links between the artist and the artwork itself – by drawing attention to the problems inherent to this dichotomy, especially within the subjective, romantic tradition of artistic production, Duchamp challenges many aspects of art and attempts to reformulate and redefine an authentic mode of artistic production that does not resort to socially ingrained judgement or arbitrary and capitalistic notions of artistic worth or value. Duchamp’s legacy can therefore be defined in three major strands. Firstly, his readymades drew significant attention to the social and political aspects inherent to artistic production – as well as highlighting the tacit discriminatory basis of these value judgements, he also sought to redefine the role of the artist in relation to the greater society in which he or she operates – the politicisation of the artist has proven to be a significant factor in much of the politically charged Conceptual art. Secondly, Duchamp’s readymade has served to attack the visionary basis that categorised a great deal of accepted art during Duchamp’s time. Because Duchamp’s role in the production of readymade art was not creative but documentarian in nature, he implicitly draws attention to the philosophical significance of an artist’s role. Thirdly, Duchamp’s desire to locate works without any intrinsic value of their own assists in redefining and refiguring categories of the object and of the intentions behind the placement of the object; this innately deconstructive tenet of Duchamp’s work has informed a great deal of the more radical conceptual artwork that has since been produced.

Duchamp’s legacy has had a profound influence on the development of contemporary art. Firstly, his physical materials have been reutilised and placed in significantly different contexts by a significant number of artists, from Johns, Cornell and Rauschenberg, through to the works of Levine, Morris, Boggs and Castelli. In addition, the political debates opened up by Duchamp have been exploited in these works. The Mona Lisa has been regularly utilised, as well as direct references to Duchamp and his readymades. The legacy of Duchamp can be effectively split into two different eras. The initial response to Duchamp involved the simple utilisation of his techniques and its reformulation. The broader implications of Duchamp’s work, and the problematic it placed upon the difficulty in between linguistic and structural representation of art was drawn upon by many of the Conceptual artists of the 1960s and beyond. Thirdly, the explicit attention that Duchamp drew to notions of artistic subjectivity were further explored by performance artists and artists that sought to remove or disorient the viewers of art by disturbing the traditional and modernist dichotomies between art and artist, art and viewer, and between various methods in which artistic expression was constructed and conveyed.


Buskirk, M. & Nixon, M. (eds) 1996, The Duchamp Effect, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hopkins, D., 2008, “Male Poetics”, from J. Mundy (ed) Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, pp. 76-87.

Judovitz, D. 1995, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Kosinski, D. 2005, Dialogues – Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas. Masheck, J. (ed.) 1975, Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, The Artists in Perspective Series, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey

Mundy, J (ed.) 2008, Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, Tate Publishing, London.

Parkinson, G. 2008, The Duchamp Book (Essential Artists Series), Tate Publishing, London.

Naumann, F. M. 2008, “Aesthetic Anarchy” from J. Mundy (ed) Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, pp. 58-75.

Sanouillet, M. & Peterson, E. (eds) 1973, The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Schwarz, A., 2008, “The Philosophy of the Readymade and of its Editions”, from J. Mundy (ed) Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, pp. 58-75. "http://www.understandingduchamp.com" www.understandingduchamp.com


Evaluation of Sources

“Marcel Duchamp’s Influence on Twentieth and Twenty First Century Art”

In this essay I have chosen four books to support the assertion that Marcel Duchamp's work was the most influential Artwork of the 20th century as reported by BBC News on December 1st, 2004. These books are listed below with a brief description:

  1. Parkinson, G., 2008, The Duchamp Book, London: Tate Publishing.

This book was chosen because of its thorough exploration of Duchamp’s career and influential art works. It concentrates only on Duchamp therefore it is a very informative introduction to understanding Duchamp and digging deep into his concepts and art.

  1. Judovitz, D., 1998, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit, London: University of California Press.

This book was chosen because its main focus is on Duchamp’s ready-mades and how they transformed the art world. It explains how ready-mades were a transition between art and non-art, art and language, concept and poetry, etc.

  1. Mundy, J. ed., 2008. Duchamp, Manray, Picabia. London: Tate Publishing.

This book was chosen because it includes different essays by leading international writers and documents revealing the relationships between these three friends and how close attention to the emerging science and technology of their time lead to the creation of the most influential art works.

  1. Macheck, J,. 2002. Marcel Duchamp in Perspective. Da Capo Press Inc.

This book was chosen because it covers a great number of essays from well-known writers such as Octaio Paz, Jasper Johns and John Cage on Marcel Duchamp and his works from paintings to ready-mades.


In the following paragraphs I will introduce these books, one by one, by a brief introduction stating why they are important in endorsing the thesis of this essay:

  1. Parkinson, G., 2008, The Duchamp Book, London: Tate Publishing.

In this book the author’s focus is on Duchamp’s work and its interpretations. He argues that although Duchamp’s focus was on ideas rather than objects, the two are inseparable. He states that was has made Duchamp’s work so special is that he shifted the primacy in art from vision (retinal art) to mind (conceptual art). On top of his descriptive and interpretative and sometimes playful readings of Duchamp’s individual works, which he illustrates through a chronological consideration of the artist’s work, the author also gives existing interpretations and views of art historians and others which is contradictory to his own view. Each chapter begins with a more literal description of Duchamp’s work within individual themes and then progresses to a more histrographical and controversial interpretations those works have received up to now. In the last chapter he suggests an alternative way of reading Duchamp’s work, which is adjustable to the humor and playfulness present in his work. He disagrees with the conventional categorizations present throughout art history with regards to Duchamp’s work.

The author begins by describing and analyzing Duchamp’s work and context through his paintings and experiments on impressionism, fauvism and cubism and then moves on to reveal the authorship and identity, eroticism and infra-mince, alchemy and science, language and secrecy and finally humor and play evident or laid underneath Duchamp’s ready-mades. This book covers most of the artist’s greatest works and it is important for any research on Duchamp because not only it introduces him and his work but also it is very enlightening in an argumentative sense.

  1. Judovitz, D., 1998, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit, London: University of California Press.

In this book, the aim of the author is to demonstrate how the theme of transition which reappears from one work to the other in Duchamp’s ready-mades, makes each piece reproduce another while all continue to exemplify an original which can no longer be found and which has no creator. One of the main points of the book is focusing on the reappearing theme of “the nude” as it transits from figurative painting to abstract painting and then its decomposition in “The Large Glass” and finally as a figurative reassemblage in “Given”. Looking at “The Nude Descending a Staircase, No.1” the author demonstrates how the notion of artistic production in associated with the logic of the multiple. Duchamp considers the nude as a transitive genre whose logic is in the order of reproducibility. In the “Large Glass” Duchamp strips the art bare. Through the concept of ready-mades Duchamp ironically demonstrates how art production through mass reproduction undermines the artistic intent. The author argues that instead of relying on “retinal art” and pictorial conventions, Duchamp redefines art by rethinking painting and transporting it into other medial such as engraving and cartooning, these new media enables one to see the visual image in a new term; when presented in a series it delays the retinal conception of the image and instead requires the mind to take its place for understanding and interpretation. One of the other main focuses of the author is on Duchamp’s concept of institutional art. Rather than demonstrating art as an expression of the object through its formal and material qualities, Duchamp stresses that art depends more on the institutional context that frames it and makes it eligible and less on the object itself. The ready-mades, by switching back and forth between art and non-art, make the transitional property of art evident and emphasis on the spectator’s position in both receiving and production of art. The author also argues that the importance of ready-mades is not only because of their visual representations but also on their nominal properties; some of them have titles which do not relate to the object of ready-made itself and this ironic naming of the object which involves the cultural reproduction of puns also plays a part in how we perceive art. All in all, Duchamp’s art is art in transition, a gap between art and non-art, vision and language and forms of artistic production and reproduction. This book is important for research because it explores the most important issues regarding the ready-mades and gives a thorough understanding of their implication.

  1. Mundy, J. ed., 2008. Duchamp, Manray, Picabia. London: Tate Publishing.

This book contains ten essays by ten different writers, some essays are on the friendship and artistic relationship present among Duchamp, Manray and Picabia and some others about their work and their philosophy. All these writers agree on the single point that the works of these three artists revolutionized the art of the twentieth century.

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal:

More from UK Essays

We can help with your essay
Find out more