Marcel Duchamp Redux

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s legendary retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum, now the Norton Simon Museum. Organized by Director Walter Hopps in 1963, By or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy—the first-ever retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre—featured 114 works of art, including major loans from Europe and the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Arensberg collection. Organizing an exhibition around this groundbreaking artist was a major coup for a small West Coast institution. The Museum’s challenge to East Coast authority was widely touted, and Hopps went on to organize a series of innovative exhibitions there.

The installation Marcel Duchamp Redux features a dozen Duchamp works acquired by the Museum during and after the 1963 exhibition, as well as photographs and ephemera from the retrospective. Ready-mades (everyday or found objects that become art, thanks to the artist’s idea and designation thereof) perfectly illustrate Duchamp’s irreverent wit and subversive relationship to art history. Two of them, The Bottle Rack, 1963 (original 1914), and L.H.O.O.Q. or La Joconde, 1964 (original 1919), included in the installation, exemplify the idea that what constitutes art is defined by the artist. The Bottle Rack is a utilitarian object and L.H.O.O.Q. is a poster of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa on which the artist has drawn with pencil and gouache.

Duchamp had a long-standing interest in optical illusion and movement, particularly as applied to painting. One of the results of this preoccupation is a set of “rotoreliefs” from 1953: motor-driven constructions with rotating color disks that give the impression of three-dimensional form in movement. This will be the first time since the 1963 retrospective that they are on view. Boite-en-Valise, 1941–42 (original 1938), represents an entirely new and different attitude by an artist about his artwork. This portable assemblage contains examples of Duchamp’s works, reproduced in miniature, and packed in a customized case that presents the artist’s idea for a traveling mini-museum.

Duchamp’s retrospective occurred at a moment when the Southern California art community was exploding with new talent and boasted a number of galleries to host it. Interest in the art of such an experimental and nonconforming artist was high. The opening reception was attended by Duchamp himself and such well-known artists as Edward Ruscha, Robert Irwin and Andy Warhol. A selection of photographs from the opening and other events during Duchamp’s Pasadena visit are included in the installation.