Marcel Duchamp once said, "Everything important that I have made can fit in a small suitcase." Boîte-en-Valise
, or Box in a Valise,
is one of 300 suitcases made by the artist. Each contained 68 miniature reproductions of his most significant works, including a scaled-down version of his famous painting Nude Descending a staircase,
which scandalized the New York art world when it was shown there in 1913. In it Duchamp attempted to capture a figure in motion--a concept that proved difficult for the audience of that time to understand. One critic said this landmark painting resembled an explosion in a shingle factory!
If you look closely, you will see other replicas of major works from his career, including his enigmatic work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), an immense work that measures nearly nine feet tall and six feet wide. Duchamp's willingness to reproduce his art was a unique concept when he began Boîte-en-Valise in 1941, and it stemmed from his belief that there was nothing inherently sacred about an art object--that the idea behind a work was in the end more important than the finished work itself. This concept is most fully realized in sculptures he called "readymades." Duchamp believed he could elevate common, store-bought items to the status of artworks merely by declaring them so. One such readymade visible in this suitcase is a work called Fountain--a playful title for a urinal turned upside down.
Marcel Duchamp on "readymades"
"In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool and watch it turn. . . . In New York, in 1915 I bought a hardware store shovel on which I wrote 'in advance of the broken arm.' It was around that time that the word 'readymade' came to mind to designate this form of manifestation. A point which I want very much to establish is that the choice of these 'readymades' was never dictated by esthetic delectation. This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste. I realized very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the production of 'readymades' to a small number yearly. I was aware at that time, for the spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit-forming drug and I wanted to protect my 'readymades' against such contamination."