Marcel Duchamp

Fountain from Marcel Duchamp

Fountain from Marcel Duchamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A French modernist artist and pioneer of the Dada movement. Duchamp’s impact in Latin America fixated towards an alteration of culture and an introduction of a new sphere in Argentinean art. Duchamp’s main ideals are perceived to be of great importance to Argentina and its discovery of contemporary art. In this case of studying Duchamp, it is important to understand that it is being focused in a Latin American context.

In September 1918, Duchamp arrived in Buenos Aires[i]. Francis Naumann, a New York scholar and art dealer specializing in Dada and Surrealist periods states that Duchamp’s decision to leave New York for Argentina was a response to the United States declaring war with Germany in 1917.[ii] His visit remained short, approximately nine months. In his stay in Buenos Aires, Duchamp wrote letters depicting his activities to friends and family. Upon his arrival, according to Naumann and Duchamp, there were no trace of Cubism or Modern art, which peaked Duchamp’s yearning to leave an impact on the Argentineans by organizing an exhibition of Cubist paintings. Duchamp considered the community in Buenos Aires crude and uniformed when considering contemporary art, “The few people that I met ‘have heard’ of cubism but are totally ignorant of the significance of a modern movement” (Duchamp, & Naumann, 42), this was one of the main reasons that he had the idea of introducing a variety of work strictly touching on contemporary art. In hopes of ‘cubifying’[iii] Buenos Aires with this exhibition, Duchamp had the intentions of amassing 30 canvases shipped from New York and Paris, also selected literature that touched the subject of modern art such as Du Cubisme by Gleizes and Metzinger. Duchamp believed that this would educate the citizens in Latin America by highlighting the study of Cubism and Modern art.[iv] However, his plans came to an end from lack of enthusiasm from his friends. Duchamp did not receive the works that he needed and therefore abandoned the entire project.[v] This was also the historic point when Duchamp’s focus began to turn towards chess; he carved pieces for his first set while on trip. He was beginning to expand his interests beyond his personal art production.

Duchamp, the innovator of the readymade, compared life in Buenos Aires to New York by asserting that the climate change is difficult to cope with and that he was deprived of his social life. While remaining in Buenos Aires, Duchamp worked on To be Looked at [ From the Other Side of the Glass] with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour in 1918. Duchamp regarded this work as of great importance to art that year, as well it allowed him to practice techniques which would be imperative to finishing the The Large Glass once he returns to New York, “I am taking all of my papers in order to work on my glass and finish all the drawings on paper-so that if one day I ever stop by N.Y again, I would rather rapidly be able to finish this big piece of trash” (Naumann, & Duchamp, 10). Duchamp created Handmade Stereopticon Slide (Hand Stereoscopy) in 1918-1919, which is a piece that was inspired by his travels at sea. In purchasing a stereopticon slide, Duchamp drew floating geometric rhomboids of the sea to depict his long journey in the S.S Crofton Hall ship.[vi] In April 1919, Duchamp was informed that his sister Suzanne Duchamp had married. Being overseas, Duchamp created a piece called Le Ready-Mde Malheureux de Marcel 1919 that he sent as a wedding gift. Duchamp wrote instructions alongside the work for the couple to assemble. The piece entailed a geometric book that was meant to be hung on the balcony with strings. This work was meant to be destroyed by tearing up pages in the book that the wind would open and identify certain pages as a ‘problem’.[vii]

Duchamp’s The Large Glass 1966 replica was seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This piece was hung next to Cuban artist, Wifredo Lam’s Jungle 1943. These works implemented the rich and historical balance between two cultures, Duchamp’s piece was seen as the anchor for the exhibition to bring awareness to the Dada movement. The relationship between Duchamp and Lam’s work was to embrace the significance behind “anti-art”;[viii] they also depicted the vast range of the field of art. An exhibition called Marcel Duchamp; a work that is not a work ‘of art’ had taken place in Latin America at the Fundacion Proa in 2008. This showing honoured Duchamp and the influence he made on contemporary art. According to Guglielmino, it was the first time that Fundacion Proa had presented a solo show.[ix]

Rosemary Feal brought awareness to the idea of the “Duchamp Effect” in a Cuban context. This concept relates to Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Exorcismos when discussing the conceptual work of identities in comparison to Duchamp’s Dadaism and readymade works. Both Duchamp and Cabrera Infante have similar motivational reasoning seen in their works when discussing its context at a conceptual level. The ideals within the “Duchamp Effect” toys with the perception of fine art as a whole and turns it around creating a mockery of the entire idea, while still acknowledging the artistic assessment.[x] Duchamp introduced the idea of viewing art outside of its literary form in order to leave a more interesting impression, by conveying the non-materialistic side of art.

The primary importance of Duchamp’s stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina illustrates to some extent the evolution of art movement in Latin America. Underling his influence on modern art and cubism Duchamp creates an understanding of shift change in cultures by bringing a fresh concept to a foreign country. With such an impact imbedded from Duchamp, there lies a closer relationship between customs, a break from tradition and creates opportunities for upcoming artists that were induced by his shared knowledge.

Manuela De Medeiros

Fall 2009


[i] Grassi, 1993.

[ii] Naumann, 1999.

[iii] Tomkins, 1996.

[iv] Duchamp, & Naumann, 1982.

[v] Nauman, & Duchamp, 1989.

[vi] Naumann, 1999.

[vii] Tomkins, 1996.

[viii] Moma, 2008.

[ix] Guglielmino, 2008.

[x] Feal, 1995.

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