30th November 2018
9 min read

Marcel Duchamp in the Galleria Schwarz

Adina Kamien-Kazhdan

Milanese art dealer, art historian, lecturer, poet, collector, and curator Arturo Schwarz was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1924 – the year the surrealist manifesto was published. Schwarz recounts that in his early teens he discovered five books that would profoundly affect his life: Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, Sigmund Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, André Breton’s Surrealist Manifestoes, and the latter’s collection of poems, Le Révolver à cheveux blancs.

In Alexandria he made the acquaintance of the Egyptian Surrealists, began to correspond with André Breton. Schwarz befriended the poets and artists Ramses Younane (1913–66), Georges Henein (1914–73), and Kamel El-Telmissany (1915–72), who were Trotskyist founders of the group Art et Liberté. Between 1945 and 1948, in addition to establishing the publishing house “Culture and Progress” and the affiliated bookshop “Culture” in Alexandria, Schwarz began assembling his library of Dada and Surrealist publications.

Schwarz settled in Milan in 1947, and founded another avant-garde publishing house. The Libreria Schwarz sold primarily essays in the fields of art and philosophy and some fiction; its clients were the inhabitants of Alexandria’s French and Italian colonies. The Libreria evolved from a bookstore into a gallery, the Galleria Schwarz, in 1959. There Schwarz held exhibitions of many prominent Dada and Surrealist artists as well as Italian and international contemporary artists at the beginning of their artistic careers.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray forged close relationships with Arturo Schwarz. Between May 1954 and June 1975 the Galleria Schwarz presented five one-man shows dedicated to Duchamp and two solo exhibitions for Man Ray, as well as group shows that included their work. Schwarz situated Duchamp as the forefather of much of the Italian and international contemporary art that the dealer produced, presented, and sold at his gallery. He produced editioned replicas of fourteen Duchamp readymades in 1964-65, and editioned replicas of ten Man Ray objects in 1963, 1964 and 1971, in close collaboration with the artists. These projects joined together two central motivating factors for replication: the reconstruction of lost work and the desire to disseminate it to a wider public.

Many of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray’s original readymades and objects were lost, dismantled, or destroyed, due to the artists’ emphasis on the “creative act,” rather than the object’s physical permanence. This was also a result of lives characterized by frequent moves or expatriations. By the 1960s, only seven of Duchamp’s fourteen “original” readymades remained, and many of Man Ray’s “Objects of My Affection” survived only as photographs. Though their goals were distinct, Duchamp, Man Ray, and Schwarz shared a flexible and broadly conceptual attitude toward creativity that facilitated this partnership in exhibitions, publications, and replication of works. Duchamp and Man Ray recognized the power of replicas and multiples to convey novel concepts, amplify their reputations, and render their works iconic. They embraced replication to spur rethinking, unhinge original meanings, and blur conventional categories. The replication projects allowed a more complete presentation of the artists’ works in exhibitions and publications and served as a new creative avenue. Sold at the Galleria Schwarz in Milan and by colleague gallerists, they also were profitable ventures for artist and dealer. These joint projects and Schwarz’s publications on Duchamp and Man Ray established him as dealer, scholar, and promoter of artists.

While treated carelessly at the time of their creation, Duchamp later recognized the readymade as his most important innovation. It challenged handcrafted standards for art, and the notions of taste and aesthetics. The readymade shook the very definition of art, by placing the artist’s conceptual process at the center, minimizing the value of the unique, original object, as well as the centrality of the artist’s manual effort and skill. Duchamp’s influence on American and European art grew tremendously from the 1950s onward; his work spoke forcefully to younger artists, reinforcing their attempts to subvert what had come before them. Forty years after its conception, artists associated with Pop, Nouveau Réalisme, and Fluxus favored the readymade and practiced replication and appropriation.

Duchamp’s first retrospective took place in Pasadena in 1963. In the early 1960s, Duchamp exhibitions in Stockholm, Pasadena, and London featured newly-made readymades. Some were faithful to the “original” readymades; Others were dissimilar, constructed without consulting Duchamp or the extant originals. This renaissance of the readymade and the object coincided with Duchamp and Man Ray’s collaboration with Schwarz on the reproduction of their earlier works. The idea of the replica or edition was not new to either artist. To fill gaps in each artist’s oeuvre, between the 1910s and 1960s Duchamp and Man Ray created or chose objects to replace lost originals. Duchamp had already legitimized the concepts of replica and multiple when he chose to create single replicas of earlier works, small editions of works, or works in multiple.

The idea to edition replicas might well have been born out of an earlier collaboration between Schwarz and the artist on the casting in bronze of two of Duchamp’s erotic objects, which stemmed from Duchamp’s still secret work, Etant Donne: Objet-dard (Dart-Object, 1962) and Chastity Wedge (1963). Beginning in 1964, Schwarz collaborated with Duchamp on producing replicas of fourteen of his most important readymades in numbered and signed editions: 8 for sale, 1 for Duchamp and 1 for Schwarz, and 2 authorized for museum collections. Each of the editioned replicas was the result of rigorous research and painstaking technical processes, with the aim of replicating the historical “original” in detail.

 On June 5, 1964, Schwarz opened the major exhibition “Homage to Marcel Duchamp,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of Duchamp’s first readymade, Bicycle Wheel (1913). The show included 108 works: readymades, collages, sculptures, drawings, engravings, illustrated editions (many previously in the collection of Henri-Pierre Roché), posters, covers for publications, documents, and photographs. Schwarz’s elaborate catalogue, Marcel Duchamp, Ready-Mades, etc. (1913–1964), was designed by Duchamp in collaboration with the dealer, and comprised essays by Walter Hopps, Ulf Linde, and Arturo Schwarz, published in Italian, French, and English side by side.

The editioned replicas produced by Schwarz in 1964 offered Duchamp an opportunity to make a “renvois miroirique” (mirrorical return) to key provocations. The usurpation of the “original” readymade by the editioned replica was paradoxical, because even the term “original readymade” is an oxymoron. Duchamp’s unassisted readymades—urinal, snow shovel, or bottle rack—were chosen from mass-produced industrial items, among which there is no true “original.” The revolutionary value of the readymade was precisely in dismantling the concept of the original. Just as the readymade decontextualized the mass-produced object and stimulated “a new thought” for it, so too the replica stimulated a rethinking vis-à-vis the readymade from which it stemmed.

Early in his artistic career, Duchamp had progressed from working in a mechanical artistic language to the conception of the readymade. The next logical step toward his goal to “dehumanize” works of art was the replication of the readymades. On the other hand, the limited edition replicas are highly retinal and aesthetic entities produced using traditional methods. Rather than look for similar objects, Schwarz and Duchamp decided to remake the readymade. For the seven readymades that had been lost, Schwarz commissioned a professional draftsman in Milan to prepare technical drawings of the readymades from enlargements of old photographs of each. These detailed one-to-one drawings included measurements and indications regarding materials. For the production of some of the editioned replicas, Schwarz ironically returned to a traditional sculptural technique, which the “original” readymade had challenged. Some criticized Duchamp for sanctioning the editioned replicas. Max Ernst said that the original gesture, which gave beauty to the readymade, was compromised. Ernst wondered if it all wasn’t a new attempt to confuse, deceive, and encourage imitators. Duchamp laughingly agreed. Some also felt then – and some historians still feel now – that Duchamp compromised his artistic integrity by the commercialized dissemination of his works through the Galleria Schwarz.

The replicas are hybrids between individual production and industrial object, and are therefore more tangible and less conceptual than the “original” readymades. The editions’ fidelity to the originals was unprecedented among previous replicas. Through the production processes and final result, Duchamp reinterpreted his earlier gestures and explored the notion of self-contradiction. The replicas sharpened Duchamp’s initial challenge to authorship – now joint with his proxy, Arturo Schwarz. Replication provided Duchamp with new opportunities to arouse controversy and challenge the artistic establishment. His collaboration with Schwarz changed both the number and the meaning of these objects. In fact, half of Duchamp’s “original” readymades can be experienced today only through the Schwarz replicas. Their challenges to the concept of the unique auratic original have been amplified over time. Exhibited and published since the 1960s, they demonstrate that while the material existence of an object and the ideas it embodies are intrinsically linked, a later reconstruction can preserve concepts associated with the original and also acquire new meaning.

Nevertheless, scholars have had difficulty conceptualizing the category confusion they embody, and the replicas occupy a precarious position in the art world, because they question a museum’s role as custodian of unique objects. But the concrete need to present Duchamp objects—not available as originals—has required a reevaluation of the editioned replica within the museum context, leading to changes in acquisition policies. However, of greater significance than questions of monetary value are the conceptual strategies Duchamp introduced, which continue to influence and inspire contemporary artists who have taken the relationship between original and replica as a primary focus of their artistic activity.

While Duchamp was involved in curating or staging his own future reception, he did not seek or strive to be enshrined. He was more interested in creating “a new attempt to throw public opinion, to confuse minds, to deceive admirers, to encourage his imitators by his bad example, etc.” The editioned readymades shift attention away from the “original” objects, emphasizing their function as a dynamic, ever-evolving conceptual device—an ongoing challenge and stimulation for future creativity.

Join Our Mailing List

If you would like to stay up to date with exhibitions and everything else here at Prahlad Bubbar, enter your email below to join our mailing list