Described by André Breton as the most intelligent man of the 20th century, Marcel Duchamp has never ceased to wield great influence over contemporary art since his death in 1968. From Dada and Surrealism to Futurism and Cubism, his art is interwoven with the great artistic movements of the 20th century without ever being reducible to any one of them.
If Picasso insistently presents the figure of the artist as demiurge, Duchamp personifies the contemporary artist through his invention of the ready-made and has been recognized since the 1960s as an undisputable source of inspiration by younger generations of artists.
A great deal has been written about his work but far less about his life, which he led outside the current categories, not as an artist or anarchist but as an “anartist”, to use his own neologism. Detachment, elegance, the freedom of indifference and interpenetration of opposites as well as a constant assertion of laziness and physiological disdain for money were for him the original tools of an unprecedented stance with respect to the world and things: “I prefer living and breathing to working.” Duchamp’s frequent, caustic remarks on his life serve as a whole to delineate a personal economics (reduce needs in order to be truly free) and an authentic art of living.
According to Henri-Pierre Roché, Duchamp’s finest work was his use of his time. Bernard Marcadé takes this view as his starting point in the deep conviction that detailed examination of the artist’s life will provide the best understanding of his art. By describing the ready-made as a sort of appointment, Duchamp himself suggests the importance of the events of everyday life in the conception of his works. The biographical elements in play – meetings, friendships, secrets, correspondence and love affairs – are not only anecdotal and marginal trimmings of the work but “biographemes” constituting its fundamental components.