In October 1933 Duchamp met with Nina and Wassily Kandinsky
in Paris. They knew each other through Katherine Dreier who was close to
both artists. Duchamp and the Kandinskys decided to send her a postcard.
Dreier received the message in New York and the postcard eventually ended
up in her archives which, after her death, became part of the Beinecke Rare
Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
sixty-five years later, in the summer of 1998, I came across the postcard
among the hundreds of pages of correspondence between Dreier and Duchamp.
In retrospect it's hard to say if I found out immediately what the problem
was in the image of the postcard (showing a bar-restaurant in Paris).
Probably I didn't. I made a copy that accompanied me back to Europe. Only
weeks later, while concentrating on the image, it became clear to me that
one of the figures in the postcard could well be Marcel Duchamp himself.
As a matter of fact, this discovery opened a whole new perspective.
There is a strong similarity between the profile of the man in the postcard
and some Duchamp photographs we know from 1919-1920, showing him with
a short haircut. I found out that the bar-restaurant Oasis really existed,
but the problem is that the place was only founded in the late twenties.
There are only two ways of dealing with this contradiction in time: whether
all this is based on a remarkable coincidence or whether the postcard
is the product of an extremely precise collage.
View of the Postcard, 1933
In support for the last thesis, one could consider
that the postcard must have been produced between 1928 and 1933. During
this period Duchamp worked on the Green Box. This project included
on the one hand the fact that he had to dig in his old boxes and on the
other hand that he got involved with printing and photography.
Another consideration makes it hard to believe that we deal
with a coincidence.
point, the bar-restaurant Oasis was owned by nobody else than Man Ray's
favorite model Kiki de Montparnasse. Billy Klüver, who wrote an extensive
study on Kiki, believes that the woman in the main focus of the postcard
is Kiki herself. During
the Harvard symposium "Methods
of Understanding in Art and Science: The Case of Duchamp and Poincaré"
(November 5-7, 1999) Arturo Schwarz confirmed that, in his opinion, the
two people sitting on the stools at the bar of Oasis are indeed Marcel Duchamp
and Kiki de Montparnasse.