Return to Previous Page

Explore a small part of the Museum's Duchamp Collection

The Bride and the Duchamp Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Bride emerged in the summer of 1912, while Marcel Duchamp sojourned to Munich, Germany in an intensive period of experimentation. Determined to develop a painting style that would constitute a radical departure from pre-existing schools, he left Paris for the German city, arriving on June 21. As he later recounted, the Bavarian city proved to be "the scene of my complete liberation." It was there that he painted Bride and several other preparatory sketches and oil paintings that he later transformed into elements of The Large Glass. Duchamp's transformation of the Bride into a mechanomorphic figure—a clear departure from his previous fauvist, cubist and futurist-inflected paintings—set him on the course of radical individuality that would characterize the rest of his career. Duchamp installed The Large Glass, with the Bride as its central character, in the Museum in 1954, having arranged its bequest from the estate of collector Katherine Dreier. There it joined his paintings, readymades, and works on paper from the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, creating the most extensive collection of Duchamp's work and attracting young artists such as Johns and Rauschenberg to Philadelphia to experience it firsthand. Johns and Rauschenberg traveled to Philadelphia after a critic described Johns' paintings as "neo-Dada" in March 1957. Johns later recalled wanting to see Duchamp's work because at the time he "did not know what Dada was." Rauschenberg's development following the visit suggests an immediate desire in the young artist to respond to Duchamp's extreme rejection of traditional painting. His Bride's Folly of 1959 seems to refer not only to a generic bride figure but to his recent experience seeing Duchamp's painting and The Large Glass for the first time. The 1912 painting remained a touchstone for Johns as well, who returned to it in 1978 and again in 1986, creating a constellation out of Duchamp's icon.


3 Standard Stoppages

Chance

All of the artists of Dancing around the Bride developed chance-based strategies to create work that emphasizes art's dynamic relationship to the circumstances of its realization, context, and viewer—in short, art's relationship to life. After painting Bride, Duchamp increasingly experimented with chance, creating both a musical experiment, Erratum Musical (1913), and a sculpture, 3 Standard Stoppages (1913–14), that each incorporated chance methods before beginning the construction of his greatest tribute to chance, The Large Glass, in 1915.

The younger artists embraced chance as part of their working process independently of Duchamp in the years following the Second World War. In 1950 John Cage applied chance to his musical compositions for the first time, adopting the hexagrams of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, as a readymade system for what would become known as his "chance operations." Merce Cunningham adopted the I Ching to determine aspects of his choreographies soon thereafter. Robert Rauschenberg, who met Cage and Cunningham in the spring of 1951 during his first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, embraced chance effects the following summer while the three were at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. His series of all-white paintings invite the play of ambient atmosphere, becoming, in Cage's words, "airports for the lights, shadows, and particles." In 1952 Cage translated the concept into music in 4'33", perhaps his most provocative and discussed work, in which a pianist abstains from striking a key, inviting the audience to listen instead to the chance arrangement of sounds in the environment for 4 minutes, 33 seconds.


Pocket Chess Set, 1943
Marcel Duchamp, American (born France)
Leather, celluloid, and pins
6 5/16 x 4 1/8 inches (16 x 10.5 cm)
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
1950-134-949

Chess

This section brings together works of art that are directly related to the game of chess, and also positions chess as a metaphor for the active exchanges among the artists of Dancing around the Bride. After abandoning The Large Glass in 1923, declaring it "definitively unfinished," Duchamp ardently participated in international chess tournaments and even published a book on playing strategies in 1932, giving birth to the popular legend that he had quit art for chess. In the years since his death and the revelation that he had worked on Etant donnes: 10 La chute d'eau, 20 Le gaz d'eclairage. . . (1946-1966) in the decades of his supposed retirement, his chess playing seems less of a disavowal and more of an expansion of the traditional conception of art making. His fascination with the game was shared by John Cage, who created a chess-inspired work soon after first meeting Duchamp in the early 1940s. Two decades later, he started formal study with Duchamp, admitting that the lessons were merely a pretext to spend time with the elder artist, to "be with him."

All of the objects exhibited within the Chess room exemplify the desire of the five artists to "be with" one another through the act of creating and exchanging works of art. They testify to the relationships among these artists that were both cerebral and personal, ranging from the artistic exchange of concepts to the physical exchange of objects. While the juxtaposition of Duchamp's Green Box and Cage's First Meeting of the Satie Society points to the influence of Duchamp's editioned boites, the pencil drawing that Duchamp gave to Rauschenberg after idly sketching it while they both participated in a panel discussion for the Art of Assemblage exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961 pinpoints particulars of the time and place of their mutual affection and shared experience.

Related Installation >>

Doing Battle: European, Asian and American Chess Sets from the 18th to the 20th Century
Great Stair Hall Balcony and Gallery 277a, second floor
A bloodless battle carried out over sixty-four squares, the ancient game of chess has a long and rich history that is international in scope. In conjunction with Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp, the Museum will also present an installation of chess sets from its collection as well as a private collection, representing the work of craftsmen from ten countries including Germany, Portugal, Russia, Puerto Rico, China, The Philippines and America.

Return to Previous Page