Marcel Duchamp – Nude Descending a Staircase (1912)
On March 18, 1912, Marcel Duchamp received an unexpected visit from his two brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, at his studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine. They informed their younger brother that the hanging committee of the Salon des Indépendants exhibition in Paris, which included themselves, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, and others, had rejected his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. These Cubist painters had refused to display the painting on the grounds that “A nude never descends the stairs–a nude reclines.” Although the work was shown in the Salon de la Section d’Or in October 1912, Duchamp never forgave his brothers and former colleagues for censoring his work.
The following year, it sparked controversy at the New York Armory Show, helping to establish Duchamp’s reputation as a provocateur overseas and paving the way for his arrival in New York two years later. In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. When Collingwood asked Duchamp if he had realized that the piece would create “such a “furor,” the artist responded: “Not the slightest. In the first place, I was a very young painter, 26 years old. Never had been to America. Wasn’t here at the time.”
The work, an oil painting on canvas with dimensions of 147 cm × 89.2 cm (57.9 in × 35.1 in) in portrait, seemingly depicts a figure demonstrating an abstract movement in its ochres and browns. The discernible “body parts” of the figure are composed of nested, conical and cylindrical abstract elements, assembled together in such a way as to suggest rhythm and convey the movement of the figure merging into itself.