WISDOM

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE
ELDER WISE MEN OF OUR DAY
Edited and with an introduction by
JAMES NELSON
W · W ·NORTON 6 COMPANY· INC· New York
MARCEL DUCHAMP
Duchamp outraged the American art concepts of 1913 with his
"Nude Descending a Staircdse"-first seen here in the revolutionary
"Armory Show." His advocacy of modem. art in the United States
is given large credit for its recognition here.
For this· conversation, Marcel Duchamp traveled, in late 1955,
to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where thirty-five of his works
are gathered in the Walter Arensberg Collection. His interviewer
was James Johnson Sweeney, director of the Solomon R. Guggen-
heim Museum, New York.
Duchamp, now 71, talked directly at and about his paintings as
he stood in front. of them-''The Nude," "The Glass," "The
Chocolate Grinder," and other paintings, and at his "ready-mades,"
and his valises-his portable museums. At first, this seemed like
television-mostly pictures, and not for a book. But his conversa-
tion was too stimulating and droll, and his convictions too honest,
to omit. The p1wtos of his works between pages 13o-131 waz, even
though help to illumine the text.
JAMES JoHNSON SwEENEY: So here you are, Marcel, looking· at
your Big Glass.*
*Editor's Note: The "Big Glass," one of Duchamp's most important works,
was the product of a decade's labor. The first sketches were drawn in 1913 and
then were set aside. Little by little, painted ya.rious
on the reverse side of the _glass-a chocolate gnnder and a shdmg machme
among them. The paintings were connected and strengthened by wires, then
backed by tinfoil to protect them and to make them completely opaque. The
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WISDOM
MARCEL DuCHAMP: Yes, the more I look at it the more I like it.
I like the breaks, the way they come, the cracks. You remember
how the accident happened in 1926? It was in Brooklyn. They put
the two panes on top of one another in a flat truck, flat-not know-
ing what they were carrying-and the glass bounced for sixty miles
to Connecticut. The more I look at it the more I like the .cracks.
They are not like shattered glass; they have a shape.· There is a
symmetry in the cracking, the two cracks are symmetrically dis-
posed. T-here is almost an intention here-a curious extra intention
that I am not responsible for, an intention made by the piece it-
self, what I call a "ready-made" intention; and I respect that.
SWEENEY: The "Glass" was one of your biggest undertakings?
DucHAMP: By far. I worked eight years on it; It is not finished. I
do not know whether it will ever be finished: But I will show you
some finished things-come along.
SWEENEY: There is "The Chocolate Grinder."
DucHAMP: Yes, one of the two I made in that manner. The third
oneis on the glass itself.
SWEENEY: You had several versions of "The Nude Descending
a Staircase" too, didn't you?
DucHAMP: Yes, three; but this is the .first one, the one that was
shown at the Armory Show.
SWEENEY: The one the newspaperman called "an explosion in
l'r a shingle factory"?
DucHAMP: Yes. That was really a great line he wrote. Next, here,
is "The Boxing Match"-a drawing that I never used, in fact, for
the glass. I felt it was not quite what I wanted.
SwEENEY: It must be a great satisfaction to you to have so many
·versions and so much of your work in one collection here in the
Philadelphia Museum.
DucHAMP: Wonderful! I always felt that showing one painting
in one place and another in another place is just like amputating
glass was finaiiy finished-Duchamp says_ uit :vas 1923.
It was shown in Brooklyn for the first time m 1926. After the exlub1tron, en
route to the Connecticut home of its owner, the glass was cracked. Duchamp
repaired it and cemented the glass, cracks and all, between two panes of plate
glass. This is ·the uBig Glass" in its present foz::m-about no inches high by
70 inches wide-and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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I
Marcel Duchamp
one finger each time, or a leg. Here I feel at home. This is my
house. I have never had such a feeling of complete satisfaction.
SWEENEY: Marcel, where are your earlier works?
DucHAMP: The earliest is this one in the corner-the church.
That was done in my village, in 1902. I was fifteen. Then I went on.
SWEENEY: It is rather Impressionist, isn't it? That was the vogue?
DucHAMP: Yes; it was the only thing we talked about. At that
time it was a<;lvanced. But when you see these later two paintings,
already Impressionism has gone down as a vogue. These later paint-
ings are more structural. Cezanne had been recognized. Cezanne
was the great man. I was influenced by Cezanne in those two paint-
ings. These are my two brothers playing chess in their garden, and
this is my father.
SwEENEY: The whole family were painters-your sister and
brothers?
DucHAMP: My one sister, Suzanne, paints, yes, but especially
my brother, Jacques Viii on, paints.
SWEENEY: Did they bring you into this style of impressionism?
DucHAMP: No, no; that was on my own_ It was in the air. My
father was very helpful at that time. It was very difficult then, as
it is now, to become a painter on your own. How can you expect to
live, et cetera, etcetera? He was a good man.
SWEENEY: He looks patient-to have sat that portrait out. There
seems to be quite a step between this and "The Nude Descending a
Staircase."
DucHAMP: "The Nude" was two years later, in 1912. It was
after the portrait of my father that I decided to leave the obvious
influences of before. I wanted to be living with my day; and my
day was Cubism. In 1910, 'nand '12, Cubism was in its childhood.
The approach was so different from the previous movements that
I was very much attracted toward it. And I began being a Cubist
painter. Finally, I came to "The Nude." . .
. SwEENEY: "The Nude" had something of movement m It that
the Cubists didn't seem to be interested in?
. DucHAMP: Yes. There was also Futurism at that time-the
Italian Futurism. But I didn't know about it. The famous Futurist
show in Paris was in January, 1912, when I was painting this, buti
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'I

WISDOM
hadn't seen the show. There is a coincidence there. Of course, you
might say Futurism was in the air, but I didn't intimately know
the Futurists. I did this painting with the idea of using movement
as one of the elements. The following year I sent it to America at
the invitation of the American painters, Arthur Davies and Walter
Pach.
SwEENEY: It was. an event in American history.
DucHAMP: At that moment, "The Nude" might have been an
explosion; it might have enjoyed a successful week or ten days-
then finished and good-by.But we know the painting forty years
later. After "The Nude," I had done what I could with Cubism, in
my opinion. Immediately I wanted to change. The idea was to
change; not to repeat myself. I could have done ten "Nudes," pro?-
ably, at that time if I wanted to. I decided not to do that. A dis-
cussion of that probably will come later. But I went, immediately,
to another fonnula which is the formula of "The Chocolate
Grinder." I was in Rouen, and one of the shops was showing,
through the glass, a real natural chocolate grinder that the manu-
facturer had put in the window. It amused me so much that I took
it as a point of departure. .
SWEENEY: What was different in your point of view than in any
normal still life of a chocolate grinder? Was it a mechanical inter-
est, is that it?
DucHAMP: Of course, the mechanical side of it influenced me.
At least, it was the point of departure for a new technique. I
couldn't go into haphazard drawing or the splashing of the pamt.
I wanted to go back to a completely dry drawing, to a dry con-
ception of art. The mechanical drawing, for me, was the best form
of that dry form of art. Accuracy, precision-nothing more.
SWEENEY: Any chance values? . . .
DucHAMP: Chance is another question. This drawi.ng could not
be liked by all the people who like Impressionism. It was a new
decision by me to get away even from Cubism; after a year of that.
"The Chocolate Grinder" was the real beginning for the large
glass. .
SwEENEY: At the time you did the glass, there was no notiOn of
what was coming?
i
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Marcel Duchamp
93
DucHAMP: No. But I had already begun to make a definite plan
for the glass. The chocolate grinder was one point, and
then the shdmg machme on the side. All the glass was imagined
and was drawn in 1·91 3 and 1914, on paper. It was based on a per-
spectiVe view, meaning complete control of the placement of
things. It couldn't be haphazard or changed afterwards. It had to
go through according to plan, so to speak.
SWEENEY: I imagine you feel that "The Chocolate Grinder"
heralded something in your work, something of that break you
have often told me about?
DUCHAMP: It was a very important moment in my life. I
had to great dec1S1?ns then. I made a great one by saying to
myself, No more pamtmg, you get a job." I looked for a job in
order to get enough to paint the kind of painting I really
wanted to ?o. I got a JOb as a librarian in Paris in the Bibliotheque
Ste.-Genev1eve. It was a wonderful job because I had so many
hours to myself.
SWEENEY: You mean you had time free to paint for yourself, not
merely to please other people?
DUCHAMP: Exactly. That experience at the library led me to the
conclusion that you either are a-professional painter or not. There
two kind$ of artists: the artist who deals with society, who is ·
With soc1ety; and the other artist, the completely free-
lance art1st, who has nothing to do with it-no bonds.
SWEENEY: You mean the man in society has. to make certain
to please society and to live. Is that why you took the
JOb?
DucHAMP: Exactly, exactly. I didn't want to depend on my
painting for a living.
SwEENEY: Didn't you have a certain income from your father?
DucHAMP: Enough to live, if you want to say that, yes. My father
was very nice about that; he always helped us along.
SWEENEY: All three of you?
DucHAMP: All three of us. Yes, long after we were of age. And
he had a very funny idea. He said, "All right, I will give you what
you want but don't forget, you are three sisters and three brothers
-so, whatever you get during my lifetime you will not get after
94
WISDOM
my death as an inheritance." So, all these sums that he had added
carefully were deducted, subtracted, from what we got after his
death, you see. It was a very amusing French idea.
SWEENEY: Marcel, when you speak of your disregard for the
broad public and say that you are pai:'ti:'g for
you accept that as meaning you pamh?g for the zdeal pubhc-
for a public which should appreciate you If they would only make
the effort to?
DucHAMP: Yes, indeed. It is only a way of expressing myself-{)£
putting myself in the right _positio_n for ideal p_ublic. TI1e dan-
ger for me is to please an Immediate Immediate pub-
lic that comes around you, and takes you m, and accepts you, and
gives you success, and everything. Instead of that, I would rather
wait for a public that will come fifty years-a hundred years-after
my death. It is the ideal right public-that, I
SwEENEY: It is a rather aesthetic attitude. But I don t tlunk you
ever felt that an artist is justified in retiring to an ivory tower and
disregarding the intelligent and sympathetic
DucHAMP: No, it is noVan ivory tower I'm thmkmg about at all.
I know there are people today who understand my v:ork.
SWEENEY: I remember a line in an article by Henn Pierre Rochet
in which he referred to you, saying that you were always careful to
find a way to contradict yourself. I imagine you mean you were
trying to avoid repeating yourself. Is this right? .
DucHAMP: You see, the danger is to lead yourself into a form of
taste, even in "The Chocolate Grinder"- . . ·
SWEENEY: Taste, then, is something that repeats somethmg else
that has been accepted. Is that what you mean? ..
DucHAMP: Exactly; it is a habit. It is a repetitiOn of tl1e same
thing long enough to become taste. If you reh1se to imitate your-
self I mean after you have done something, then It as a thmg
by itself. But if it is repeated a number of times it becomes a taste,
a style, if you want. .
SWEENEY: Good taste seems to be what IS approved and bad
taste is some repetition which is not approved. Is that what you
mean?
,. ;
·.- t,'
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Marcel Duchamp
95
DucHAMp: Good or bad is not really the question because always
what is good for one is bad for another.
SWEEm;:Y: How did you find the way to get away from good or
bad taste m your personal expression? .
. DucHAMPi By knowing the· technique-the mechanical tech-
mque-where. taste is possible. A mechanical drawing could
have no taste m It. There was no style involved .
. sv:EEm;:Y:. Because it was divorced from the expres-
SIOn m pamtmg?
DuCHAMP: Exactly. At least, I thought so at that time and I do
think today the same way.
SWEENEY: Was it this divorce from human intervention in draw-
ing or painting tl1at led you to the idea of ready-mades?
DucHA:"'P'. Yes. It was a sort of conclusion or consequence of
dehumamzatwn of the work of art, to such a point that I came to
the idea of the ready-mades. I call them ready-mades. Let me show
y_ou. Thi_s is a ready-made bird cage. If I seem to be having a hard
hme lifting the cage, it is because these cubes that fit the cage are
not sugar. They are marble, and they weigh a ton. That was one of
the elements that interested me when I made it. It is a "ready-
ma?e" and the is changed to marble. It is a sort of mytho-
logiCal effect. This, next, is a ready-made dating from 1916. It is a
ball of twine between two plaques of copper and brass. Before I
fin!shed it, Walter Arens berg put something inside the ball. of
twme. He never told me what it was. I didn't want to know. It was
a sort of secret and it makes a noise. We call this a ready-made
with a secret noise. Listen to it. I never know, I don't know, I will
never know whether it is a diamond or a coin.
SWEENEY: You didn't meet Arensberg until you came to the
United States, did you? .
. DucHAMP: No. I came in 1915. That was my first meeting with
h1m. Walter Pach took me to Arensberg's house, when I came off
the boat. I had a very long-lived friendship with him.
SWEENEY: Was Arensberg himself a painter?
DuCHAMP: No, he was a poet. He was a poet connected with
the school of the Imagists, in England. .
WISDOM
SWEENEY: HD and Richard Aldington, and that group.
DuCHAMP: Yes. And they had a magazine here-with Alfred
Kreymbbrg and Wallace Stevens-called Others.
SWEENEY: Didn't Arensberg publish some magazine himself, a
magazine connected with your group, or your friends?
DucHAMP: Yes, two amusing magazines. Each had only one
issue, unfortunately. One was called Wrong, Wrong, and the
other was called The Blind Man.
SwEENEY: They were Dadaist?
DuCHAMP: Yes, they were inspired by Dada.
SWEENEY: Was Dada more a literary movement perhaps?
DucHAMP: Yes, it was more literary. It had more to do with
plastic art as such, and did not concern itself with considerations
of technique as had all the schooJs.beforehand. In fact, Dada was
a negation-a refusal· to accept anything like that, to deny the
validity of theoretical interests. So, the Dadaism movement in
Paris became completely literary. In fact, it became Surrealism in
1923. Dada brought together a group of people. But they did not
stay together very long. After two years or three years, they had
enough. They began fighting together; they hated each other. So,
they dispersed and became another group assembled on the ashes
of Dada: they became the Surrealists.
SwEENEY: But your group in America, I mean the Arensberg
group, was associated with several other groups, wasn't it?
DucHAMP: There was, for example, Katherine Dreier, who was
also a patron of art. She started a museum called "Societe
Anonyme." It was a group formed to bring paintings from abroad
... to get a sort of communion of art from the two sides of
modern art. It was quite successful. ·
SWEENEY: These several groups, I imagine, laid a certain founda-
tion for an understanding of contemporary Europeal) art.in this
country, much before other institutions entered the field?
DucHAMP: Yes. It was from then on that modern America
was absolutely modern-art conscious; it never had happened be·
fore.
SWEENEY: Katherine Dreier owned your large glass which .we
were looking at a little while ago?
Marcel Duchamp
97
DucHAMP: Yes. At the time when the Arens bergs, who had the
glass for a while, when it was almost finished-it never was fin-
ished-in 1920 and 1921-when they left New York for California
they didn't want to take the glass along because it was too fragile
to transport very easily. So Katherine Dreier bought it from them.
She had it all the rest of her life.
SWEENEY: From what you say the glass was never really finished.
It remains a sort of unfinished epic, as I see it.
DucHAMP: Yes. The last time·I worked on it was 1923.
SwEENEY: Also for me, it seems to indicate that you were never
really dedicated to conventional painting in the ordinary sense of
the word. You were happy enough to create this, you were happy
enough to leave it. You were happy enough to use bottle racks as
ready-mades, and to fill bird cages with marble to deceive those
who thought it was sugar. I imagine that there is something broader
in your concept of what art is than just painting. Is that what you
feel yourself? I don't like to put words in your mouth, but I have
often thought about it.
DucHAMP: I considered painting as a means of expression, not
an aim.
SWEENEY: One means of expression?
DucHAMP: One means of expression instead of a complete aim
for life . . . the same as I consider that color is only a means of
expression in painting. It should not be the last aim of painting.
In other words, painting should not be only retinal or visual; it
should have to do with the gray matter of our understanding, not
alone the purely visual. It is that way with my life in general. I
didn't want to pin myself down to one little circle. I have tried to
be as general as I could. For example, that is what I did when I
took up chess. Chess in itself is a hobby, is a game. Everybody can
play chess. But I took it very seriously and enjoyed it because I
found some common points between chess and painting. When
you pla.y .a· game. of chess, it is like designing something or con-
structing some mechal)ism of some kind by which you win or
lose. The competitive side of it has rio importance. The thing
itself is very very plastic. That is probably what attracted me in
the game.
WISDOM
SwEENEY: Do you mean by that, chess for you is another form
of expression?
DucnAMP: At least it was another facet of the same kind of
mental expression, intellectual expression-one small facet, if
you want. But it had just enough difference from painting to
make it another facet; and then to add to the body of my life.
SwEENEY: Marcel, you spent quite a bit of time in the late 193o's
and the early 194o's on your valises? Do you regard them as a ·
distinct personal expression also?
DucHAMP: Absolutely. They are a new form of expression for
me. I wanted a reproduction of the paintings that I loved so much
in a small reduced form-in a small shape. How to do it, I didn't
know. I thought of a book, which I didn't like. I thought of the
idea of a box in which they would be mounted as in a .small
museum, a portable museum, so to speak. This is it, this valise.
SWEENEY: They are a sort of ready-made help, as you call it.
DucHAMP: Ready-made help, yes. See: .it opens this way. Prac-
tically all my work is in here .. I think very few things are missing.
You see this roto-relief here? It is a disk-a series; it is twelve
different drawings that are based on this spiral-
SWEENEY: To be used on a gramophone or Victrola?
DucHAMP: Yes, on a Victrola. When you tum these disks at a
certain speed, like 33Ys turns a minute, you get the effect of a
growing form such as a cone or corkscrew or spiral. But they are
different drawings. This one, for example, is a glass. It doesn't look
like a glass here but when it turns it comes up in third dimension.
This one here, that is the Dada period-the Mona Lisa with the
mustache· and a goatee. That was of course a great iconoclastic
gesture on my part, sacrilegious-blasphemous; all you want to
say of it. But outside of that blasphemous gesture, I have other
gestures of the same kind in the Dada period . . . such as this
check. I paid my dentist with this check which was an original
check drawn on myself on no bank at all; and he accepted. it. He
was a very good sport and he· accepted it. The funniest part of it
is that ten ·or fifteen years later I saw him again, and I bought the
check back for my own collection. And there it is.
This drawing is about a gambling system-a system to win at
Marcel Duchamp
99
Monte Carlo; to break the bank at Monte Carlo. Of course, I
never broke ariy bank with it. I thought I had a system. I sold some
shares to different people to raise some capital to try to break the
bank in Monte Carlo.
SWEENEY: Did you undertake it?
DucHAMP: Oh, I did. I sold a few shares, of course.
SwEENEY: But did you win anything?
DucHAMP: No, I never won anything. Now, this is "The Boxing
Match." As you see, the drawing is completely geometrical or
mechanical because that was the period when I changed com-
pletely from splashing the paint on the canvas to an absolutely
precise co-ordinated drawing; and with no relation to artistic
handiwork. This drawing was supposed to be in the big glass but
was never put in.
SwEENEY: People say you have not been painting lately.
DucHAMP: I would, if I had the urge-if it came forth. I don't
want to repeat what I have done before. I am searching. only for
a new idea. Maybe, tomorrow . . . ·
SwEENEY: I've heard you discuss the word "intellectual" from
time to time.
DucHAMP: As you know, I like to look at the intellectual side
of things, but I don't like the word "intellect." For me intellect is
too dry a word, too inexpressive. I like the word "belief." In gen-
eral when people say "I know," they don't know, they beheve.
Well, for my part, I believe that art is the only form of activity in
which man, as man, shows himself to be a true individual who is
capable of going beyond the animal state. Art is an o ~ t l e ~ toward
regions which are not ruled by time and space. To hve 1s to be-
lieve, that's my belief.

The more I look at it the more I like the . DucHAMP: Yes. In 1910. SWEENEY: The "Glass" was one of your biggest undertakings? DucHAMP: By far. T-here is almost an intention here-a curious extra intention that I am not responsible for. This is my house.nally·unfinished''-:-~~ 1923. in fact. It was shown in Brooklyn for the first time m 1926. no." . in 1912. en route to the Connecticut home of its owner. when I was painting this. as it is now. between two panes of plate glass. the way they come. Cubism was in its childhood.first one. what I call a "ready-made" intention. an intention made by the piece itself. it was the only thing we talked about. didn't you? DucHAMP: Yes. This is ·the uBig Glass" in its present foz::m-about no inches high by 70 inches wide-and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Jacques Viii on. SWEENEY: There is "The Chocolate Grinder. I have never had such a feeling of complete satisfaction. And I began being a Cubist painter. But when you see these later two paintings." I 'I ~~ I i DucHAMP: "The Nude" was two years later. There seems to be quite a step between this and "The Nude Descending a Staircase. At that time it was a<. cracks and all. one of the two I made in that manner. The famous Futurist show in Paris was in January. three. These later paintings are more structural. that was on my own_ It was in the air. But I didn't know about it. I wanted to be living with my day. for the glass. DucHAMP: Wonderful! I always felt that showing one painting in one place and another in another place is just like amputating glass was finaiiy finished-Duchamp says_ uit :vas fi. You remember how the accident happened in 1926? It was in Brooklyn. I worked eight years on it. buti . etcetera? He was a good man. . The approach was so different from the previous movements that I was very much attracted toward it.lvanced. SWEENEY: He looks patient-to have sat that portrait out. et cetera. It was very difficult then. but this is the . but especially my brother. I was fifteen. My father was very helpful at that time. the glass was cracked. isn't it? That was the vogue? DucHAMP: Yes." DucHAMP: Yes. That was really a great line he wrote. They are not like shattered glass. SWEENEY: Marcel. After the exlub1tron. and I respect that. Then I went on.cracks. Finally. and this is my father.WISDOM MARCEL DuCHAMP: Yes. How can you expect to live. already Impressionism has gone down as a vogue. they have a shape. Cezanne had been recognized. and my day was Cubism. SwEENEY: The whole family were painters-your sister and brothers? DucHAMP: My one sister. to become a painter on your own. SWEENEY: The one the newspaperman called "an explosion in l'r a shingle factory"? DucHAMP: Yes. SwEENEY: "The Nude" had something of movement m It that the Cubists didn't seem to be interested in? . . I felt it was not quite what I wanted. or a leg. There was also Futurism at that time-the Italian Futurism. Cezanne was the great man. paints. I like the breaks. They put the two panes on top of one another in a flat truck. SWEENEY: It is rather Impressionist. Next. is "The Boxing Match"-a drawing that I never used. SWEENEY: You had several versions of "The Nude Descending a Staircase" too. 'nand '12. paints. I was influenced by Cezanne in those two paintings. The third oneis on the glass itself. It was after the portrait of my father that I decided to leave the obvious influences of before. the cracks. These are my two brothers playing chess in their garden. in 1902. where are your earlier works? DucHAMP: The earliest is this one in the corner-the church. 1912. Duchamp repaired it and cemented the glass. I do not know whether it will ever be finished: But I will show you some finished things-come along. SwEENEY: It must be a great satisfaction to you to have so many ·versions and so much of your work in one collection here in the Philadelphia Museum. SWEENEY: Did they bring you into this style of impressionism? DucHAMP: No. It is not finished. the more I look at it the more I like it. Suzanne. I came to "The Nude.· There is a symmetry in the cracking. yes. the one that was shown at the Armory Show. Marcel Duchamp one finger each time. That was done in my village. the two cracks are symmetrically disposed. here. Here I feel at home. flat-not knowing what they were carrying-and the glass bounced for sixty miles to Connecticut.

the completely freelance art1st. but I didn't intimately know the Futurists. "The Nude" might have been an explosion.-Genev1eve. Arthur Davies and Walter Pach. The following year I sent it to America at the invitation of the American painters. if you want to say that. you are three sisters and three brothers -so. so to speak. it was the point of departure for a new technique. SWEENEY: You mean you had time free to paint for yourself. is that it? DucHAMP: Of course. SWEENEY: I imagine you feel that "The Chocolate Grinder" heralded something in your work. It was a new decision by me to get away even from Cubism. This drawi. the mechanical side of it influenced me. after a year of that. . SwEENEY: At the time you did the glass. SwEENEY: Didn't you have a certain income from your father? DucHAMP: Enough to live. A discussion of that probably will come later. After "The Nude. DucHAMP: At that moment. The mechanical drawing. immediately. meaning complete control of the placement of things. an event in American history." I was in Rouen. Of course. SWEENEY: You mean the man in society has. It amused me so much that I took it as a point of departure." I had done what I could with Cubism. Accuracy. But I had already begun to make a definite plan for the wh_ol~ glass. for me. it might have enjoyed a successful week or ten daysthen finished and good-by. I couldn't go into haphazard drawing or the splashing of the pamt. at that time if I wanted to. was the best form of that dry form of art. . Is that why you took the JOb? DucHAMP: Exactly. DucHAMP: Chance is another question. yes. All the glass was imagined and was drawn in 1·91 3 and 1914. he always helped us along. I could have done ten "Nudes. No more pamtmg. Immediately I wanted to change. I will give you what you want but don't forget. He said. I decided not to do that. through the glass. . I had to ~ake great dec1S1?ns then.ng could not be liked by all the people who like Impressionism. to a dry conception of art. whatever you get during my lifetime you will not get after ?o. there was no notiOn of what was coming? Marcel Duchamp 93 j i DucHAMP: No. It was based on a perspectiVe view." I looked for a job in order to get enough ~ime to paint the kind of painting I really wanted to I got a JOb as a librarian in Paris in the Bibliotheque Ste. exactly. I made a great one by saying to myself. There ~re two kind$ of artists: the artist who deals with society. The chocolate grinder was one point. precision-nothing more. The idea was to change. and then the shdmg machme on the side.WISDOM hadn't seen the show. It was a wonderful job because I had so many hours to myself. SWEENEY: All three of you? DucHAMP: All three of us.But we know the painting forty years later. who is · mtegrate~ With soc1ety. There is a coincidence there. My father was very nice about that. something of that break you have often told me about? DUCHAMP: It was r~ally a very important moment in my life. At least. to another fonnula which is the formula of "The Chocolate Grinder. "All right. not to repeat myself. in my opinion. you get a job. and the other artist. I did this painting with the idea of using movement as one of the elements. . a real natural chocolate grinder that the manufacturer had put in the window. "The Chocolate Grinder" was the real beginning for the large glass. I didn't want to depend on my painting for a living. SwEENEY: It was. on paper. It couldn't be haphazard or changed afterwards. And he had a very funny idea. who has nothing to do with it-no bonds.. not merely to please other people? DUCHAMP: Exactly. Yes. SWEENEY: Any chance values? . I wanted to go back to a completely dry drawing. to make certain ~ompromises to please society and to live. That experience at the library led me to the conclusion that you either are a-professional painter or not. But I went. and one of the shops was showing." pro?ably. SWEENEY: What was different in your point of view than in any normal still life of a chocolate grinder? Was it a mechanical interest. you might say Futurism was in the air. long after we were of age. It had to go through according to plan.

if you want. SWEEm. I: . it is a habit.94 WISDOM Marcel Duchamp 95 my death as an inheritance. and takes you m. At least. is something that repeats somethmg else that has been accepted. all these sums that he had added carefully were deducted. I will never know whether it is a diamond or a coin. If you reh1se to imitate yourself I mean after you have done something. I know there are people today who understand my v:ork." So. . DucHAMP: No. This. He was a poet connected with the school of the Imagists.:Y: How did you find the way to get away from good or bad taste m your personal expression? . SWEENEY: I remember a line in an article by Henn Pierre Rochet in which he referred to you. . . It was a sort of conclusion or consequence of dehumamzatwn of the work of art. and they weigh a ton. and gives you success. I thought so at that time and I do think today the same way. They are marble. But I don t tlunk you ever felt that an artist is justified in retiring to an ivory tower and disregarding the intelligent and sympathetic p~bl~c. I call them ready-mades. you see. If I seem to be having a hard hme lifting the cage.. Yes. Is that what you mean? DucHAMp: Good or bad is not really the question because always . I didn't want to know. It is only a way of expressing myself-{)£ putting myself in the right _positio_n for tha~ ideal p_ublic. SWEENEY: Good taste seems to be what IS approved and bad taste is some repetition which is not approved.:Y:. indeed. SWEENEY: You didn't meet Arensberg until you came to the United States. A mechanical drawing could have no taste m It. I had a very long-lived friendship with him. It is a sort of mythologiCal effect. when I came off the boat. what is good for one is bad for another. a style. SwEENEY: It is a rather aesthetic attitude. when you speak of your disregard for the broad public and say that you are pai:'ti:'g for your~elf. Let me show y_ou. I w~nt. Is that what you mean? . saying that you were always careful to find a way to contradict yourself. It is a ball of twine between two plaques of copper and brass. It is a repetitiOn of tl1e same thing long enough to become taste. Listen to it.t. woul~n't you accept that as meaning you a~e pamh?g for the zdeal pubhcfor a public which should appreciate you If they would only make the effort to? DucHAMP: Yes. . Walter Arens berg put something inside the ball. There was no style involved . next. . It was a sort of secret and it makes a noise. and accepts you. That was my first meeting with h1m. it is because these cubes that fit the cage are not sugar. Thi_s is a ready-made bird cage. But if it is repeated a number of times it becomes a taste. and everything. in England. SWEENEY: Was Arensberg himself a painter? DuCHAMP: No. · taste. TI1e danger for me is to please an Immediate pub~Ic-the Immediate public that comes around you. He never told me what it was. is a ready-made dating from 1916. . then It st~ys as a thmg by itself. It was a very amusing French idea. from what we got after his death. the danger is to lead yourself into a form of . of twme. DucHAMP: Exactly. did you? . It is the ideal public-~he right public-that. even in "The Chocolate Grinder"SWEENEY: Taste. We call this a ready-made with a secret noise. I don't know. to such a point that I came to the idea of the ready-mades. DucHAMP: No. SWEENEY: Marcel. I would rather wait for a public that will come fifty years-a hundred years-after my death. subtracted. Walter Pach took me to Arensberg's house. Before I fin!shed it. That was one of the elements that interested me when I made it.. he was a poet. I never know. . ·. I imagine you mean you were trying to avoid repeating yourself. then.. Is this right? . I came in 1915.' . SWEENEY: Was it this divorce from human intervention in drawing or painting tl1at led you to the idea of ready-mades? DucHA:"'P'. It is a "readyma?e" and the s~gar is changed to marble. Instead of that. Because it was divorced from the ~onventional expresSIOn m pamtmg? DuCHAMP: Exactly. DucHAMP: You see. it is noVan ivory tower I'm thmkmg about at all. n~ taste is possible. DucHAMPi By knowing the· technique-the mechanical techmque-where. sv:EEm.

it seems to indicate that you were never really dedicated to conventional painting in the ordinary sense of the word.we were looking at a little while ago? Marcel Duchamp 97 DucHAMP: Yes. Dada brought together a group of people. And they had a magazine here-with Alfred Kreymbbrg and Wallace Stevens-called Others. was associated with several other groups. and that group. After two years or three years. laid a certain foundation for an understanding of contemporary Europeal) art. and did not concern itself with considerations of technique as had all the schooJs. wasn't it? DucHAMP: There was. . and to fill bird cages with marble to deceive those who thought it was sugar. to get a sort of communion of art from the two sides of modern art. for example. of chess. You were happy enough to create this. SWEENEY: Katherine Dreier owned your large glass which . In other words. The thing itself is very very plastic. Is that what you feel yourself? I don't like to put words in your mouth. it never had happened be· fore. SWEENEY: Didn't Arensberg publish some magazine himself. unfortunately. SwEENEY: But your group in America. but I have often thought about it.a· game. You were happy enough to use bottle racks as ready-mades." It was a group formed to bring paintings from abroad . So. Katherine Dreier. not alone the purely visual. Everybody can play chess. But they did not stay together very long. She had it all the rest of her life. When you pla. it is like designing something or constructing some mechal)ism of some kind by which you win or lose. SwEENEY: Also for me. I imagine. that is what I did when I took up chess. you were happy enough to leave it. For example. painting should not be only retinal or visual. Each had only one issue. That is probably what attracted me in the game. I didn't want to pin myself down to one little circle. So. DucHAMP: Yes. DuCHAMP: Yes. is a game. I mean the Arensberg group.. the same as I consider that color is only a means of expression in painting.beforehand. It had more to do with plastic art as such. they were inspired by Dada. SWEENEY: Was Dada more a literary movement perhaps? DucHAMP: Yes. One was called Wrong. it was more literary. when it was almost finished-it never was finished-in 1920 and 1921-when they left New York for California they didn't want to take the glass along because it was too fragile to transport very easily. In fact. Wrong. it became Surrealism in 1923..WISDOM SWEENEY: HD and Richard Aldington. a magazine connected with your group. The competitive side of it has rio importance. much before other institutions entered the field? DucHAMP: Yes. I have tried to be as general as I could. as I see it. Dada was a negation-a refusal· to accept anything like that. It should not be the last aim of painting. they hated each other. to deny the validity of theoretical interests. SWEENEY: From what you say the glass was never really finished.y . It was quite successful. they dispersed and became another group assembled on the ashes of Dada: they became the Surrealists. or your friends? DucHAMP: Yes.in this country. I imagine that there is something broader in your concept of what art is than just painting. It is that way with my life in general. It was from then on that modern America was absolutely modern-art conscious. At the time when the Arensbergs. . not an aim. who had the glass for a while. the Dadaism movement in Paris became completely literary. · SWEENEY: These several groups. . The last time·I worked on it was 1923. and the other was called The Blind Man. DucHAMP: I considered painting as a means of expression. So Katherine Dreier bought it from them. It remains a sort of unfinished epic. two amusing magazines. SWEENEY: One means of expression? DucHAMP: One means of expression instead of a complete aim for life . they had enough. She started a museum called "Societe Anonyme. it should have to do with the gray matter of our understanding. They began fighting together. In fact. who was also a patron of art. SwEENEY: They were Dadaist? DuCHAMP: Yes. Chess in itself is a hobby. But I took it very seriously and enjoyed it because I found some common points between chess and painting.

chess for you is another form of expression? DucnAMP: At least it was another facet of the same kind of mental expression. · SwEENEY: I've heard you discuss the word "intellectual" from time to time.WISDOM SwEENEY: Do you mean by that. shows himself to be a true individual who is capable of going beyond the animal state. you get the effect of a growing form such as a cone or corkscrew or spiral. DucHAMP: Ready-made help. only for a new idea. if I had the urge-if it came forth. . This is it. I never broke ariy bank with it. and I bought the check back for my own collection. And there it is. I sold a few shares. SWEENEY: They are a sort of ready-made help. That was of course a great iconoclastic gesture on my part. I have other gestures of the same kind in the Dada period . I like the word "belief. This drawing was supposed to be in the big glass but was never put in. intellectual expression-one small facet. The funniest part of it is that ten ·or fifteen years later I saw him again. if you want. that's my belief. to break the bank at Monte Carlo. it. I don't want to repeat what I have done before.small museum. . like 33Ys turns a minute. I never won anything. I thought of the idea of a box in which they would be mounted as in a . on a Victrola. To hve 1s to believe. . I think very few things are missing. is a glass. you spent quite a bit of time in the late 193o's and the early 194o's on your valises? Do you regard them as a · distinct personal expression also? DucHAMP: Absolutely. SWEENEY: Did you undertake it? DucHAMP: Oh. They are a new form of expression for me. as man. and with no relation to artistic handiwork. and he accepted. too inexpressive. I like to look at the intellectual side of things. SwEENEY: Marcel. I thought of a book. for my part. DucHAMP: I would. they beheve. This one. Well. SwEENEY: People say you have not been painting lately. Maybe. When you tum these disks at a certain speed. as you call it." they don't know. But it had just enough difference from painting to make it another facet. such as this check. I believe that art is the only form of activity in which man. it is twelve different drawings that are based on this spiralSWEENEY: To be used on a gramophone or Victrola? DucHAMP: Yes. He was a very good sport and he· accepted it. but I don't like the word "intellect. How to do it. See: . a portable museum. I sold some shares to different people to raise some capital to try to break the bank in Monte Carlo. that is the Dada period-the Mona Lisa with the mustache· and a goatee. tomorrow ." As you see." For me intellect is too dry a word. Of course. sacrilegious-blasphemous. Now. I am searching. SwEENEY: But did you win anything? DucHAMP: No. But outside of that blasphemous gesture. and then to add to the body of my life. this is "The Boxing Match. You see this roto-relief here? It is a disk-a series. for example. This one here. But they are different drawings. I did.. . this valise. Practically all my work is in here . yes. I thought I had a system. Art is an o~tle~ toward regions which are not ruled by time and space. of course. which I didn't like. . the drawing is completely geometrical or mechanical because that was the period when I changed completely from splashing the paint on the canvas to an absolutely precise co-ordinated drawing. I wanted a reproduction of the paintings that I loved so much in a small reduced form-in a small shape. I didn't know. all you want to say of it. so to speak. DucHAMP: As you know.it opens this way. It doesn't look like a glass here but when it turns it comes up in third dimension. This drawing is about a gambling system-a system to win at Marcel Duchamp 99 Monte Carlo. I paid my dentist with this check which was an original check drawn on myself on no bank at all." In general when people say "I know.

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