The Battle Scene

Original Version:

1916, New York
large-scale mural signed by Duchamp
no dimensions recorded

Duchamp once described this Readymade as "a huge old-fashioned painting behind us - a battle scene, I think" (Tomkins 162). The original (and only) version of this piece was destroyed. No photos were taken of Battle Scene and no dimensions were recorded. In this sense, it has literally disappeared in all aspects of the word. All that remain are the memories of those who saw it before its destruction and the relatively brief notes of the artist and others concerning its creation.

Battle Scene is (or was) a mural on the wall of Café des Artistes, a restaurant at 1 West 67 Street, New York. Duchamp did not paint the mural; while dining one evening with Walter and Louise Arensberg, decided to add his signature to the bottom of the already created wall artwork. As Schwarz explains, "he jumped up and signed [the mural]" (645). In this sense, this Readymade exemplifies Duchamp's attempts to stretch the concept of authorship and reinvent the traditional definition of artwork. Just as he did in Pharmacy, Duchamp took someone else's average work and signed it himself, therefore claiming it as his own and turning it into something supposedly worthy of being art. What makes the Battle Scene unique, however, is that it clearly could never physically occupy the museum gallery space. (That is, unless the wall were literally torn down and somehow kept intact or reassembled afterward.) Clearly, Duchamp was aware of this fact when making the Battle Scene. In this way, he succeeded in further blurring the lines between everyday popular culture and the fine arts.

The mural was destroyed years later when painter Howard Chandler Christy painted over the walls of the restaurant with a series of female nudes who continue to adorn its walls to this day.

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