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  • Provenance

    Christie's East, New York, 8 November 1982, lot 149

  • Catalogue Essay

    This Man Ray photograph is an early and rare portrait of the avant-garde photographer’s colleague Marcel Duchamp, considered by many to be the most influential artist of the 20th Century. It is also a synergetic performance piece. By creating a stage through the frame of photography these two great innovators allow us to contemporaneously witness Duchamp’s legendary metamorphosis from art-maker to chess-player. Reflecting the previous five years Man Ray and Duchamp collaborated together, the portrayal of this mythic transformation is a game changer.

    Man Ray’s close collaborative friendship with Marcel Duchamp began in 1915, soon after Duchamp arrived in New York City. That year Man Ray had the first solo exhibition of his art, while Duchamp’s reputation as a radical artist proceeded him from Paris to New York with the shocking inclusion in the 1913 Armory exhibition of his painting Nude Descending a Staircase no 2, 1912. They quickly became the center of a small group of artists who completely radicalized art, as America knew it. Both living at one point in an art colony across the Hudson, they met almost nightly, gathered at the home of the collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg, or Alfred Stieglitz’ gallery and partied together in Greenwich Village.

    After teaching himself to use a camera to document his art, Man Ray started to experiment with photography as a tool to make art around 1918 – only two years before this photograph was most likely taken. With the use of photography, Man Ray and Duchamp started producing radically modern images of reconstructed identity such as Man Ray’s portrait of Duchamp as his alter-ego Rrose Sélavy, circa 1920-1921 and as a “Monte Carlo Banknote” circa 1921. In doing so they opened the floodgates of traditional art and what constitutes a portrait. In this early photograph Duchamp is seen as a fully formed artist in the “pupa” or transition stage. In his hands are what appears to be two small wings and hanging on the wall (as if a Readymade work of art) is Duchamp’s chessboard chrysalis.

    The physical act of morphing from one form to another is indicated by Man Ray’s strong lighting - which fractures his subject into dual layers. Duchamp had previously used fracturing and layering in his infamous painting Nude Descending a Staircase no 2. In this performance-portrait and in a photo of bed-sheets hanging on a clothesline, blowing in the wind (taken at the same time and titled Moving Sculpture), Man Ray pushed Duchamp’s innovative idea that the dynamics of movement in ordinary objects could be seen as art into the modern realm of photography.

    The collaborative friendship of these two great innovators reached a peak in 1920, the year Duchamp returned to New York from a two year sabbatical that included a nine-month stint in Buenos Aires where he carved his own chess set with the help of local craftsmen. The following year Man Ray moved Paris and became the leading photographer in André Breton’s circle of Surrealism. Duchamp had proceeded him by a few months, but by then Duchamp was no longer making art. Instead, the creative powerhouse whose ideas swept the way for Pop and Conceptual Art, focused almost exclusively on the game of chess.

    This print was likely in Man Ray's possession until his death, with the Manford M28 applied by Lucien Treillard prior to it being released to the market.

6

Marcel Duchamp

circa 1920-1921
Gelatin silver print.
6 x 3 7/8 in. (15.2 x 9.8 cm)
'31 bis, Rue Campagne Première Paris' credit stamp (Manford M28) on the verso.

Estimate
$50,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $56,250

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Caroline Deck
Specialist, New York

General Enquiries:
+1 212 940 1245

Innovators of Photography: A Private East Coast Collection

New York Auction 8 October 2015