Tzanck Check

Original version, 1919
Original Version:

Dec. 3, 1919, Paris
Collection Arturo Schwarz, Milan
Promised gift to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
ink on paper
imitated rectified readymade
221 x 38.2 cm

A slightly larger than life-size hand drawn/written check made out to Duchamp's dentist, Dr. Daniel Tzanck, in Paris, this Readymade is a shockingly everyday object. However, drawing on an account at "The Teeth's Loan & Trust Company Consolidated of New York" for the amount of 115 dollars, it is also clearly fraudulent. Duchamp later bought it back from his dentist for a price greater than that for which it was made out. This therefore leads to questions as to value: was the check even worth 115 dollars to begin with, let alone more? In fact a forged document, the check claims to be something that it is not.

Original version, 1919

In 1966, Duchamp told Cabanne, "I took a long time doing the little letters, to do something which would look printed - it wasn't a small check" (63). And so this piece really isn't very Readymade; it is in fact an imitation of a Readymade object. (Hence its categorization as an imitated rectified readymade.) Duchamp admitted that he spent much time crafting the check, thus ironically supporting the traditional role of artist as skilled craftsman, instead of mere designator. The bottom half of the paper, intended to appear to be stamped with the phrase "the teeth'sloanandtrustcompanyconsolitated" in successive lines, must have taken a very long time to achieve by hand.

The entire Tzanck Check revolves around the central axis of "ORIGINAL" written vertically. Such a term standing at the center of this check appears quite appropriate because the piece plays with the concepts of value and the original both on a practical and symbolic level. There is a marked similarity between the standardized type font of a printed document and Duchamp's own personal signature. Duchamp, yet again, is playing with the concept of authorship. Here it is a question of man or machine, or rather, man imitating machine.

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