Original Version:

1910, Paris
wooden toy (wood ball with hole,
attached to stick by string)
recently unknown
11.75 in. tall; 4 in. diameter

Duchamp gave this piece to his German artist friend Max Bergmann on April 18, 1910 as a souvenir from Paris. This art object as souvenir concept appears to anticipate later ideas illustrated in the Readymades. The object's status as a souvenir is clearly indicated on the Readymade itself. Inscribed with a sharp instrument directly on its wooden surface, the inscription reads: "Bilboquet/ Souvenir de Paris/A mon ami M. Bergmann/Duchamp printemps 1910."

Categorizing Bilboquet as a Readymade is very debatable. It was in fact only recently discovered and discussed by Francis Naumann in a February 2000 article. This new development in the story of the Readymades raises some very important questions about what really is the first Readymade. Before this discovery, the debate was already raging. With this new addition to the already long list, one is tempted to doubt former assumptions. Naumann explains, " is difficult not to think of the bilboquet as the first readymade. But such reasoning is challenged by the fact that some three years would pass before Duchamp would make a similar object (Bicycle Wheel 1913), and it would not be until 1915 that he came up with a term to define these objects. It may have been for these reasons that the bilboquet was intentionally omitted from Arturo Schwarz's recently revised catalogue raisonne of the artist's work" ("Erotic" 100).

Bilboquet is a game of dexterity; the object is to throw up the ball and impale it on the stick. According to Naumann, its origins are rather obscure ("Erotic" 100). Naumann continues on to explore the possibility of a sexual reading of this piece, with its clearly male (stick) and female (ball) parts. The phallic form yearns for its complement (in this case the ball with a hole in it) to complete the action. This task poses a real challenge, however, and may prove futile. This may be seen as a reference to Duchamp's fascination with inconsequential motion and its sexual associations. Addressed in many other Readymades, as well as in the Large Glass, this idea of the futile sexual act appears to be one of Duchamp's central preoccupations.

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