Marcel Duchamp, may I ask you where your first works came from, from
what reflection upon art at that time or the world at that time?
It's very complicated and complex, because, fifty or forty years later,
one gets a headache trying to remember how, for what reason, all these
things were made and for the most part, when they were created, these
things just came pel-mel, without any order. There wasn't a sort of
plan directing all the organization, and, I tell you, it was one thing
after another which arrived without any predilection but which pertained
to the work preceding it and to the work following it. And for us, forty
years later, it all seems to be so homogenous but it's difficult to
explain how it came about.
even if you only reveal to us the significance which you attribute today
to your methods of before, that wouldn't be more false.
evidently there's an enormous difference isn't there… it's just… the
enormous difference is…. I don't know, the pecuniary order, if you will…
When we were making all of that as part of Dada there was never any
thought of profiting from it… So it makes an enormous difference, because
there wasn't a plan. We never showed our ongoing works. We didn't hide
them either. Nobody but ourselves, and even among us we spoke of them
without attaching any significance to them since that was truly an anti-society
position, wasn't it. So there wasn't any reason that it would all take
some form. And we didn't think one would ever take.
Was this position against society in 1910 already so alive? What was
in 1910, it was less… yet… no… in 1910, there was already the abstract
art of Kandinsky, Kupka, Picabia and … Mondrian who were creating only
to continue a tradition begun by Courbet, if you will. But the realism
of Courbet was then transformed into impressionism, then into fauvism,
then into cubism and finally the last incarnation was abstraction, above
all with Kandinsky and Kupka and Mondrian.
Then it was necessary
to wait for the war in order to arrive at Dada, you see at dadaism which
was justly more than a reaction to schematic order or artistic order,
even: it was an anti-society reaction as I've told you--not even political
in the political sense, it wasn't at all like communism or anything
like that, it was an intellectual reaction, a cerebral reaction, almost.
Do your ready-mades date from before the war or after the war?
Duchamp, Bottle Dryer, 1914
Duchamp, Pharmacy, 1914
could say I made one… I created one in 1913, by chance that was before
the war. I didn't call it a ready-made then because I didn't know what
a ready-made was. I hadn't made… I'd simply made a wheel which turned,
a bicycle wheel which turned on a stool, for the pleasure of watching
it turn, in my studio as I would have a crackling fire, you see. It
was something which--by its movement--was for me… entertaining, you
understand, an accompaniment to life, but not at all a work of art in
the sense… or even a work of anti-art of any sort. Then I made the Bottlerack.(Fig. 1)
The Sechoir à bouteilles.
séchoir à bouteilles, which itself wasn't… which didn't move. And
so you had a movement and an anti-movement. And therefore there was
a relation between the two. There were also other things still more
interesting in my opinion, there was taking something already made for
a model, whcih is what happened with Pharmacy, (Fig. 2) you
see. It was
a small snow-covered landscape made by who knows, that I bought from
a shopkeeper, to which I simply added two dots--a red and a green--which
indicate the pharmaceutical jars that one sees. All of this made a landscape
by sight in the snow you see by adding these two things which could
and… would be the lights of a cottage, were in reality… were turned
into pharmacy, you see…
Then in 1915 in
New York I made a snow shovel that didn't interest me at all, especially,
and so the interesting thing, in all this, wasn't so much the reaction
itself but there was also the idea of finding something in these objects,
which wasn't attractive to the aesthetic point of view. The aesthetic
delight was excluded. It's not comparable to what one calls a "found
object" for example. The object found is a thing, it's a form,
in other words a check found on the picket line, or something like that
which didn't interest me, because it was still from the aesthetic domain,
by which I mean… a beautiful form, etc. It had already been completely
removed from my research.
You weren't trying to dream by exhibiting these new forms, were you?
the contrary, the interesting thing for me was extracting from its practical
domain or its utilitarian domain and bringing it into a domain completely…
empty, if you will, empty of everything, empty of everything to a point
such that I spoke of a complete anesthesia in order to do it, you understand,
which is to say it was necessary… it wasn't so easy to choose, something
which wasn't pleasing to you and which, you, not pleasing to you, you
understand, what I want to say by that… not only what must please you
aesthetically but what wouldn't anymore displease you aesthetically,
which is to say the opposite: bad taste instead of good which is the
same thing, isn't it. There isn't any difference between good and bad
taste… two things as little interesting to me as--one or the other,
one or the other.
So your enterprise was purely against the era. There wasn't at all,
for example… ambition… to teach the eye to admire or to…
MD. the eye…
… or to adapt itself, let's say, to new forms in a spirit a little functionalistic.
not at all, not at all, not at all. And it's because of this that all
these ready-mades, in sum, are so different from one another… so different
that there isn't, if you will.. the air of a family about them… there
isn't any air of family between Pharmacy, which we've spoken
of, and the Bottlerack or the Bicycle Wheel that turns!
Obviously we say "manufactured object." But it's not always
about manufactured objects. I even once made to amuse myself… in a restaurant,
I was dining with some friends in New York, there was a big decorative
painting, which decorated this restaurant, and which was completely
ridiculous, just like a painting, from every point of view, and I stood
up, then I signed it, you understand. It is therefore… it's still there…
this readymade wasn't manufactured, it was made by hand even if by another
painter! And what's more, in one of my works, I put a hand which indicates,
you see, the management one uses in public establishments. I put this
hand there but I myself hadn't painted it. I had it painted by a painter
Nevertheless in the act of naming… an earthenware public urinal…
MD. … yes,
… a fountain…
… it's the same as…
Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
(Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz)
Duchamp, In Advance of a Broken Arm, 1915
a urinal, that I named Fountain (Fig. 3) in
order to disengage it from its utilitarian purpose! The idea of a fountain…
completely ironic, since there wasn't even a fountain there, but then
this support, and then still the title wasn't absolutely necessary,
although I often used to add a phrase… for example with the Bottlerack
I had bought… added a phrase that I don't remember because the Bottlerack
is lost, was lost in 1916, something like that--during a move--and I'd
written a subtitle to it and I absolutely can't remember it, not a thing,
not even a word.
But with the snow
shovel, I wrote "In advance of a broken arm" (Fig. 4) trying also to find a phrase which wanted to say nothing. Because even
if this could want to say something… the advance of the arm, "in
advance of a broken arm" has a truly useless meaning, you understand,
and without great interest!
wasn't any intention there of farce?
at all, not at all! No, the farce was… for me, it was me who… even more,
there wasn't a farce there since nobody was taking an interest in it!
There wasn't a public there, there wasn't… it wasn't presented to the
public. There wasn't participation at all from the public or acceptance
from the public or even calling upon the public as witness and asking
what the public thought of it, you understand… it was different outside,
even so, I tell you, the ensemble of all these things was in a climate
where the public wasn't invited! There wasn't any public--the public
wasn't invited, wasn't necessary… at all!
You're not at all a professional painter?
what I've always wanted to escape, being professional in the sense of
being obligated to live from painting, which produces a little bit but…
it's unconfirmed once done… and above all you know what happens when
the art dealers say to you, "Ah! If you make ten pictures for me
in this style, I will sell as many as you want of them." Then--well
this wasn't at all my interest or my amusement, soI didn't do it. I
made nothing. Then it was like this, I went to a conference. A round
table which took place in Philadelphia, where I was asked, "Where
are we going?" Me, I simply said, "The great fortune of tomorrow
will hide itself. Will go underground." In English it's better
than in French--"Will go underground." It'll be necessary
that it dies before being known. Me, in my opinion, if there is an important
fellow from now in a century or two--well! he will have hidden himself
all his life in order to escape the influence of the market… completely
mercenary [laughs] if I dare say.