Conceptual Art 101: Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise

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    Marcel Duchamp (French, 1897‒1968). 'Boîte Series G,' 1968. Photographic reproductions, celluloid, plaster, porcelain, vinyl, paper, and wood. Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2010 (14229.1). © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society.

March 24, 2016 - June 19, 2016
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

Focusing on a single artwork in the museum’s permanent collection—Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise—this exhibition considers conceptualism in art, that is, art less about the object than about the concept (or idea) behind it. A painter, sculptor, writer, and master of chess, Duchamp was the first to devote his career to demonstrating the richness and variety of art about ideas. From the moment he upended a bicycle wheel, mounted it on a stool, and called it sculpture, he repeatedly called attention to the fundamental aesthetic value of the intellectual exercise of selection, and, downplaying notions of creative individualism and authorship, he insisted that even a facsimile could be a work of art. In privileging the concept over the original object, Duchamp questioned the notion that successful art required a public and, exhibiting only rarely, placed his best work in private collections.

In 1936, Duchamp began working on a compendium of “approximately all the things I produced”: a “portable museum” that would contain his principal works in miniature. Into this Boîte-en-valise he carefully folded 69 scaled-down replicas of his paintings, drawings, and objects, including Cubist landmarks such as Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), “Readymades” such as Bicycle Wheel (1913), Bottle Rack (1914), and Fountain (1917), and the archly erotic Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1913) and L.H.O.O.Q. (Mona Lisa with a moustache, 1919). During the remainder of his life there followed six partial editions of the Boîte, each of which incorporated additional items and varied in presentation. Although fabricated in multiple editions, the Boîtes are not true copies, for Duchamp personally and meticulously oversaw the exacting production of each component.

One of the most important and influential works of 20th-century art, Duchamp’s Boîte is not only a convenient summation of his oeuvre, but also, as a selection of duplicates paradoxically engineered by the artist himself, a clever synthesis of his conceptual practice. His artistic statements and achievements, in all their heterogeneous and many-sided profusion, are presented here as a carefully ordered whole, from his early attempts at Fauvism and Cubism, to the groundbreaking objects and themes that place him at the forefront of Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism.

Learn about conceptual art from the curator's perspective on the museum blog