Marcel Duchamp – Father of Conceptual Art – Part I

The 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art at New York– more popularly known as “Armory Show” that housed nearly 1250 works of art by 300 artists, has a very significant place in the annals of art history as it changed the way the art was perceived earlier. It was here at this exhibition, modernism found its way into the formal world of art institutions with the purchase of Cézanne’s Hill of the Poor by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2, 1912 ,Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia)

However it was Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending the Staircase that created quite a stir at this exhibition, in fact, scandalized it. It was out rightly radical as it rejected the traditional notions about the way nudes were painted earlier. His ‘nude’ wasn’t the reclining one but performing as mundane task as descending the staircase. Moreover, the geometrically abstracted nude shattered people’s traditional expectations that usually manifested in a female form. His art at once questioned what was ‘conventional’ and it wasn’t surprising that many rejected the artistic merit of this work and ridiculed it by renaming it as ‘Food descending the Staircase’ or ‘The Rude’ etc. However, he did win lot of admirers at the show and the fact that all his four paintings were sold, was enough as testimony to the artistic genius that he was. The use of what he described as “readymade” ordinary objects and the mechanical formats that he used to depict the human forms in his future works of art continued to intrigue and shock his viewers at once.


(Duchamp Bride 1912)

Duchamp’s Bride, is one more such example that was an even more disturbing than his Nude. His abstract engineered forms to interpret bride stripped her off human form and revealed a certain prophetic pessimism over the future that about to be unleashed on Europe and the growing dependence on machines that it entailed. The meanings of his paintings were so intricate and private that his works were often incomprehensible and yet evoked different meanings for viewers who had to dig through deep layers of his enclosed world. 

(The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass) of 1912 to 1923)

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even also known as The Large Glass that he worked from 1913 to 1923 is quite seminal in that sense. By refusing to follow the convention, Duchamp’s ‘conceptual art’ did change the way we looked at artwork and forced the viewers to think beyond the otherwise obvious objects. We will explore more of his works in the upcoming blog entries. Watch out for this space! 

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