In 1923, rumors circulated that renowned artist Marcel Duchamp was renouncing art to devote his life to chess. “I am still a victim of chess,” he explained at the time. “It has all the beauty of art—and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.” Duchamp’s retreat from the art world wasn’t total, however. Instead, it gave him space, away from the distractions of the art scene and its attendant market pressures, to make his final work (in secret) for the last 20 years of his life.
Throughout history, many great artists have opted out, taken significant breaks, or withdrawn from the art world altogether—whether in search of a mind-clearing reprieve from commercial and social stresses, as with Agnes Martin, or as the final act of a practice animated by institutional critique, like Lee Lozano. Below, we take a look at seven such instances.