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Exhibit of the week: Inventing Marcel Duchamp
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., is celebrating Marcel Duchamp, the avant-garde artist whose upside-down urinal raised for the first time questions about what can and should be considered art.
N

ational Portrait Gallery
Washington, D.C.
Through Aug. 2

Few foreign artists have ever made quite as big a first impression in America as Marcel Duchamp, said Brett Zongker in the Associated Press. His Nude Descending a Staircase, displayed in New York in 1913, was one of the first modernist artworks the stateside public had ever seen. The Frenchman soon settled in New York and “proceeded to playfully break all the rules” of art up to that time. “Duchamp saw the chance to invent himself anew in a country free of heavy traditions,” and soon created another storm of publicity by exhibiting an upside-down urinal—raising for the first time many questions about what can and should be considered art. Over the years Duchamp became the country’s favorite avant-garde artist. That explains why the eccentric Frenchman is being celebrated in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Duchamp also had a lasting influence on native-born American artists, said Chris Klimek in the Washington, D.C., Examiner. In the late 1950s, artists such as Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns looked to him as a model. Duchamp himself was one of the first artists to draw inspiration from “America’s rising consumer culture, and its love of new technology.” Five-Way Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (1917) was created using a run-of-the-mill automatic postcard machine, typically used at that time by tourists. The “Wanted” poster Duchamp created of himself, featuring mug shots from different perspectives, is a fascinating peek into the future of 20th-century art—as well as a clever commentary on every person’s search for identity.

“For Duchamp, portraiture was all about destroying our stale ideas about an artist—or a person—as a single thing,” said Blake Gopnik in The Washington Post. In addition to playing with multiple images of himself, the prankster artist enjoyed dressing up in disguise. “Duchamp can be male one minute, female the next. He can be a European man of letters or an outlaw from the Wild West.” One “portrait” of him, created by a fellow artist, is a photograph of a Champagne glass filled with scrap metal. This exhibition features Duchamp “portraits” side by side with works by other artists paying homage to him, amounting to a kind of kaleidoscopic tour of the 20th century’s most innovative art. Duchamp may not have been born an American. But he turned out to be “the most influential artist ever to make a home in this country.”

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