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The essential Duchamp

'The essential Duchamp' celebrates the legendary work of artist and provocateur Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp Bicycle wheel 1964 (replica of 1913 original) Philadelphia Museum of Art; Fountain 1950 (replica of 1917 original) Philadelphia Museum of Art; Hat rack 1964 (replica of 1917 original) National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Bottlerack 1961 (replica of 1914 original) Philadelphia Museum of Art, © Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP. Copyright Agency, 2018

Friday 26 April, 2019

More than a century after Marcel Duchamp’s (1887–1968) readymade Fountain was rejected from display in New York and over five decades since the last significant exhibition of his work came to Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales presents The essential Duchamp. This must-see exhibition from the Philadelphia Museum of Art also marks the 50 year anniversary of the artist’s death.

The essential Duchamp is the most comprehensive survey of the art and life of Duchamp ever to be seen in the Asia Pacific region, bringing together over 125 works from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s world-renowned collection. The travelling exhibition began in 2018 and concludes its tour at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, following on from the Tokyo National Museum, Japan and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea.

Dr Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of NSW, said The essential Duchamp features work spanning the artist’s six-decade career, exploring Duchamp’s formative years alongside iconic works and key documentary materials.

“Tracking the achievements of Marcel Duchamp is to map some of the most seismic shifts in 20th century art history. The essential Duchamp reveals the life and work of an artist whose provocative and unorthodox approach dramatically expanded the possibilities for making art.

“Duchamp began building his reputation as a major disruptor of the art world when he exhibited Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2) 1912 at the 1913 Armory Show in New York. Yet, even as this magnificent and innovative take on Cubism established his name, Duchamp’s relentless efforts to challenge conventions saw him abandon painting and embark into uncharted artistic territory including the legendary readymades and the development of Rrose Sélavy, his female alter ego,” Brand said.

“The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds the world’s largest and most significant collection of Duchamp’s work together with an incomparable library and archival holdings relating to the artist, making The essential Duchamp a rare opportunity to experience his work in depth,” Brand added.

Timothy Rub, George D. Widener director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art said the Museum is proud to partner with the Art Gallery of NSW for a second time to bring another ambitious and innovative exhibition to Sydney, following the success of America: painting a nation in 2013.

“The gift of the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection in 1950, with its great concentration of works by Duchamp, was a landmark event in the history of the Philadelphia Museum of Art establishing it as a world renowned destination for modern art. We are delighted to share it with new audiences in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Duchamp’s reputation has never stood higher than it does at present among artists working around the world. Fifty years after his death the passage of time has seemed only to clarify and to strengthen the argument that his work represents an inflection point in the history of art, the significance of which has not been fully appreciated,” Rub said.

Dr Matthew Affron, exhibition curator and Muriel and Philip Berman curator of modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said The essential Duchamp tells the story of Duchamp’s making and unmaking as a painter, revealing an influence that continues to resonate.

“Duchamp’s legend has proliferated internationally. His impact is seen today in artists’ engagement with multiples and facsimiles, in critical reflection on the display of art in galleries and museums, and in work that deals with commodity culture or explores the connections between gender, sexuality, and art.

“Duchamp wanted to exclude his personal taste and the technical skill of his hand from his work in order to make ideas paramount and bring forward the intellectual value in art. The essential Duchamp explores his insistent pursuit of independence and freedom in both art and life,” Affron said.

Nicholas Chambers, exhibition coordinating curator and senior curator of modern and contemporary international art at the Art Gallery of NSW, said the exhibition is unprecedented in Australia due to the depth and breadth of the representation of Duchamp’s career.

“From his early paintings as a teenager to his portable museums of miniatures late in life, and including important works that have not before been seen in the Asia Pacific region such as Portrait of Dr. Dumouchel 1910, Sonata 1911, and Chocolate Grinder (No. 2) 1914, this exhibition offers rare insights into the development of both Duchamp’s art and his enigmatic persona,” said Chambers.

The essential Duchamp is accompanied by a richly illustrated publication which tells the artist’s story through four key periods. Written by exhibition curator Matthew Affron with additional contributors: Cécile Debray, director at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris; Alexander Kauffman, Andrew W. Mellon–Anne d’Harnoncourt Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Michael R. Taylor, chief curator and deputy director for art and education, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond and John Vick, collections project manager, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The essential Duchamp is organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The international tour has been made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

On view
27 Apr – 11 Aug 2019
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


Tickets can be used once, anytime the exhibition is open.

$20 adult
$18 concession
$16 member
$48 family (2 adults + up to 3 children)
$8 child/youth (5-17 years)
Free for children under 5
$2 transaction fee applies online
Buy tickets now from Qtix

Also available
Gallery Pass ticket offer
Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2019 and The essential Duchamp
$36 adult
$32 concession
$29 member

$7 student (booked school groups)

Also available
Dining packages
Multi-entry tickets

Find out more

Media contact

Hannah McKissock-Davis
Tel 02 9225 1671