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Marcel Duchamp

Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912, by Marcel Duchamp

In 1912, at the age of twenty-five, Marcel Duchamp made a momentous decision. Only about a year after catching the attention of the public as a Cubist painter, he abandoned the craft of oil painting and vowed to remain free of all organized artists’ groups. He declared his independence in order to push beyond cultural conventions, becoming one of the most original thinkers in the history of modern art.

This new direction led Duchamp to create the glass construction at the center of this gallery, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), which he conceived in 1912. Soon after, Duchamp pushed aside traditional definitions of art entirely with his first “readymades.” He borrowed the term from the garment industry, which used it to describe ready-to-wear clothing made by machines. Duchamp’s readymades consisted of mass-produced objects placed in imaginative contexts that gave them unexpected meanings.

Through the ensuing decades Duchamp kept firing off provocative ideas. Public esteem for him grew as artists of the 1950s and 1960s found inspiration in his unorthodox attitudes toward artmaking. Though he continued to maintain that artists must operate apart from the cultural establishment, Duchamp accepted his increasing fame. He even worked to preserve his legacy.

It was Duchamp himself who ensured that the majority of his work stayed together in one institution. He assisted his primary patrons, Louise and Walter Arensberg, in negotiating the 1950 gift of their distinguished collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.