Marcel Duchamp

(1887 - 1968)
Marcel Duchamp La Boîte-en-Valise [Box in a Suitcase] 1935 - 1941 © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017. © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017.


Duchamp was born in France, but lived for much of his adult life in America. In 1911 he was painting in a cubist style, but he virtually stopped painting after 1912. Duchamp was intrigued by the idea that ordinary, mass-produced things could be considered as art objects in their own right. He preferred simply to sign, and sometimes alter, household objects, terming them 'readymades'. On moving to America in 1915, Duchamp became a leading figure in the New York Dada group, along with Picabia and Man Ray. His questioning attitude towards definitions of authenticity, originality, artistry and authorship has been immensely influential.

Glossary terms

  • The term 'Avant-garde' refers to cultural practices that challenge tradition through experimentation and innovation.
  • A radical artistic and literary movement that was a reaction against the cultural climate that supported the First World War. The Dadaists took an anti-establishment attitude, questioning art's status and favouring performance and collage over traditional art techniques. Many Dadaists went on to become involved with Surrealism.

  • Existing objects or images that are incorporated into an artwork. A found object that is treated as an artwork without modification is known as a readymade.

  • A term coined by Marcel Duchamp to describe an existing object that is taken from its original context and regarded as a work of art.

  • A literary and artistic movement founded by the poet André Breton in 1924. Many of the associated artists, such as Max Ernst and Jean Arp, had previously been involved with Dadaism. The movement sought to challenge conventions through the exploration of the subconscious mind, invoking the power of dreams and elements of chance. Cultural hierarchies were challenged by the combination of diverse elements in collages and sculptural assemblages. The movement is also notable for the collaborations between artists and writers evident in the Surrealists' many publications.