Marcel Duchamp, ‘Boîte-Series D (based on Boîte-en-Valise, 1935– 41)’, 1961, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Created during the period 1935–41, Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise [Box-in-a-Valise], playfully co-signed “from or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy,” with his female alter ego, provided an encapsulation of the artist’s career to date. “You have invented a new kind of autobiography,” said Walter Arensberg upon seeing Duchamp’s completed Boîte-en-valise in 1943. The first twenty deluxe editions contained sixty-nine miniature versions of Duchamp’s work, including The Large Glass and Fountain, in addition to a unique drawing by the artist. This Boîte, represents one of a series of later editions created by Duchamp with assistants and containing the same small-scale replicas. Featuring those pieces that Duchamp found to be most important to his career, the Boîte includes many works in which the artist assumes aliases. This includes pieces that allude to his female alter-ego Rrose Sélavy, co-signatory to this work. Most famously, the artist positions himself as a criminal in Wanted: $2,000 Reward, sought for the crime of gambling, and known under numerous pseudonyms. Collectively then, Duchamp’s work, while functioning collectively as a self-portrait, also destabilizes the reliability of the very names and pictures we frequently use to assign identity. Duchamp’s playful undermining of such labels would leave a powerful stamp on future generations of artists.

Image rights: © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2015

"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"

Frances Beatty and Allen Adler

About Marcel Duchamp

Associated with the Dada, Surrealist, Cubist, and Futurist movements, Marcel Duchamp radically subverted conventional practices of artmaking and display, challenging such weighty notions as the hand of the artist and the sanctity of the art object. Duchamp’s depiction of dynamic Cubist forms in Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) established him as a leading member of the international avant-garde. In 1913 Duchamp created Bicycle Wheel, which is considered the first of his famous readymades—minimally altered objects that are elevated to the status of art simply through the designation of the artist. Particularly in his readymades, Duchamp placed unprecedented emphasis on the artistic concept as paramount over craftsmanship or aesthetics, a guiding principle that has proved hugely influential to 20th-century artistic practice.

French, 1887-1968, Blainville-Crevon Seine-Maritime, France