Search View Archive

Critics Page

First Encounters with Marcel Duchamp

My first comprehension of a readymade was so momentous and life-altering that it is etched into my memory with such permanence that it seems to have happened yesterday, when, in actual fact, it occurred when I was eighteen years old, now some fifty-eight years ago.

Three Encounters with Marcel Duchamp

And so it was in the early fall of 1950, when I was eighteen and working alone one morning at the Janis Gallery, that Duchamp appeared at the front door. I greeted him warmly; he was a family friend while I was growing up. Marcel had a natural grace, refinement, and modesty.

Meeting Duchamp

Every so often, though, an editor would come up with an idea that involved the visual arts, and somebody would be assigned to write it. One day, I got the call to go and interview Marcel Duchamp.

1968: Before and After

Far from being identified with a singular artistic position as a conceptual artist, as Duchamp’s fame as instigator of Fountain might suggest, he had and continues to have quite extraordinary tentacles in every direction.

No Endgame in Sight

Intimidated but inspired, I identified an aspect of Duchamp’s life that had not been investigated quite so rigorously: his passion for chess, a pursuit that appeared to have been as curious to art historians as his art had undoubtedly been to his chess competitors.

Infinite Encounter

My first encounter with Marcel Duchamp was by no means coincidence. Of course not. How could it have been?

Why Fountain Matters as Never Before

What struck me was that this guy Duchamp got away with calling a urinal art without designing it, while I might someday have to design a urinal without calling it art. There was a logical chiasma there, at the center of which was the issue of the name. It stayed with me.

From Manuport to Readymade

I did not know how to place Duchamp and did not dare to ask for explanations on the matter, since he was treated a bit like a relative, a familiar figure, a tutelary deity.

Étant donnés

Even if these myriad “Duchamps” already indicated a great flexibility regarding the concept of art and artist, it was Etant donnés, I thought, that didn’t fit.


I was dazzled by the vast, exotic universe that unfurled before my eager eyes to the syncopated cadence of the slide projector. It was here that I first heard the name Marcel Duchamp.

Nothing Literary in the Accepted Sense

I am unable to say how I—someone with no academic background in art history—became “interested” in Duchamp’s work or explain how I persevered with this interest once I realized the undeniable complexity of the Duchampian notes, aphorisms, and objects.

Intrusions into the Enchanter’s Domain

While a high school student, aged seventeen, at Liverpool High School in upstate New York, I made a linocut of Duchamp’s 1914 version of The Chocolate Grinder for an appreciative Ms. Houston, my fine arts teacher. I also managed to convince my long-haired, Metallica-loving host-brother Derrick to take me on a road trip to Philadelphia with his pickup truck.

Discovering Duchamp through the “Fourth Dimension” in 1971

In 1970 the Stedelijk Museum’s first major Kazimir Malevich exhibition had revealed his use of “Fourth Dimension” in his titles. And, most importantly, there was a clue in the entry for Duchamp’s 1920 Rotary Glass Plates in the 1968 catalog of the MOMA exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age.


One does not mention Hitler and Duchamp in the same breath, and certainly one does not show them next to each other, even if it is only their portraits. The consciousness of the difference between image and depiction is indeed critical for all self-reflexive art (such as in Rene Magritte’s This is not a pipe). But does this critical consciousness fail in the case of traumatically occupied images?

Looking Back

The fact that in 1969 Duchamp's writings existed only in French and that his works were very much tied to Paris drew me inevitably to the city, which is a treasury of unrivaled historical richness. Exploring the new artistic and intellectual spaces created by Duchamp was right from the beginning intimately related to the unending pleasure of strolling through the quartiers of Paris Streets, squares, and façades.

In Advance of the Broken Arm

My first encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s work would have taken place fifty years ago in my art history classes and American art museums, but was that really an encounter with Duchamp? How to know Duchamp? That question underlies all the discussion and always has.

Seeing Duchamp’s Coffee Mill at the Tate: First Encounter of a Lasting Kind

Coffee Mill was of talismanic importance for Duchamp as it initiated his career-long interest in machine imagery and movement, which is seen in later works such as Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2;

Readymade Statements

Readymade Statements


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2022

All Issues