The Box in a Valise
From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Selavy

Original Version:

1935-41, New York and Paris
leather/imitation leather/cloth-covered valise
containing replicas, reproductions of artist's works
Series of seven (A-G)
dimensions vary

Original version? 1935-41

This very debatable Readymade has often been termed a "mini" or "portable museum." It plays with Duchamp's interest in the commercial world as seen in the store window and the related concept of the multiple as a mass-produced commodity. Varnedoe explains his theory on this relationship, suggesting that it was "most likely modeled on a salesman's sample kit and carried miniature replicas of his whole 'line'" (273). Others have suggested similar interpretations, comparing the Box in a Valise to a puppeteer's portable theater or suitcase.

In addition to many two-dimensional representations of his past works, including a number of Readymades, this very Duchampian museum contains three-dimensional "miniature-replicas" of several of his famous Readymades: Paris Air, Traveler's Folding Item, and the infamous Fountain (Arman 34). These sculptures are arranged vertically within the valise: the glass ampoule on top, the Underwood typewriter "skirt" hanging below, and the urinal at the bottom. Finding a link to Duchamp's interest in sexual and bodily concepts, a number of scholars have noted this arrangement's suggestion of a female body. Larson explains,

"Duchamp took this vertical sequence seriously. He repeated it with life-size ready-mades in his first retrospective, a 1963 installation at the Pasadena Art Museum. Check it out: clear over black over white. There has to be more. The ampul is an airhead, the typewriter cover is a skirt intended to be looked under (as we know from the artist's comments), and the urinal is what we infer - a cutaway intrauterine section of The Bride. Voila! The whole thing is a surrealist torso!" (212).
Original version? (detail), 1936-42

Larson also makes some strong sexual claims concerning this Readymade, stating, "the Dirty Old Man's Box is the most masturbatory project of the century" (212). He presents the highly sexual nature of Wayward Landscape, a piece included in the deluxe edition of The Box in a Valise. Larson comments that the "FBI lab in Houston has determined [Wayward Landscape] to consist of seminal fluid on a synthetic fabric" (212).

1) 1941, Paris; 1942-9, New York
Series A: 20 boxes, numbered I/XX-XX/XX

2) 1941, Paris; 1942-54, New York
Series B: 60-75 boxes, unnumbered

3) 1958, Paris
Series C: 30 boxes, unnumbered

4) 1961, Paris
Series D: 30 boxes, unnumbered

5) 1963, Paris
Series E: 30 boxes, unnumbered

6) 1966, Paris-Milan
Series F: 75 boxes, unnumbered

7) 1966-March 1971, Paris-Milan
Series G: 47 boxes, unnumbered

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