A Museum in Miniature: Exploring Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise with Matthew Affron, Curator of Modern Art at The Philadelphia Museum of Art
“Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase”
In the mid-1930s, Marcel Duchamp embarked on a complex project: to create a collection of his most important works as miniature two- and three- dimensional replicas in a display container. This tiny museum became known informally as the Boîte-en-valise or Box in a Valise because of the leather case he designed for the deluxe edition. Duchamp maintained control of every aspect of the production of this work. He designed the formats, made technical decisions about printing, color correction, and retouching, and took charge of financing and distribution. The first complete box was assembled in 1941. Duchamp kept issuing new editions (with some changes to the contents) into the 1960s.
A limited-edition replica, entitled Marcel Duchamp: Boîte-en-valise (or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy) was created under the supervision of the artist Mathieu Mercier and first published in 2015. We asked Matthew Affron, Curator of Modern Art at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, to break down a few of the 69 miniature works contained inside.
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1. Apolinère Enameled, Duchamp’s original work of 1916-17, was an advertisement on a tin plate for a brand of paint that the artist altered in playful ways, while the reproduction he made for his Box in a Valise was a photographic print with applied watercolor and embossing.
2. Starting in 1913, Duchamp began working with ordinary manufactured objects, such as this iron stand for putting bottles up to dry, as a way of turning his back on the traditional craft of painting.
3. This is a reproduction (originally in letterpress) of Duchamp’s Chocolate Grinder (No. 2) of 1914, a cold, precise painting of a large industrial machine.
4. One of Duchamp’s many investigations of optical illusions, this blue-and-red heart (originally a paper collage made to be reproduced in 1936 on the cover of a Paris art magazine) seems to wobble when looked at under dim light.
5. This is a miniature reproduction in molded porcelain of one of Duchamp’s most notorious works, an ordinary man’s urinal that triggered a public scandal when it was submitted under the title Fountain to an art exhibition in New York in 1917.
6. The original, an ordinary typewriter cover with nothing underneath, was lost after its presentation at a New York gallery in 1916.
7. Here we have a three-dimensional reproduction in glass of the ethereal 50 cc of Paris Air (1919), a sealed medicine vial full of nothing but the atmosphere of the city from which it came.
8. The Large Glass (1915-23), a nine-foot-high “painting” in mixed materials on the reverse of two glass panes and the major work of Duchamp’s early career, was included in the original Box in a Valise as a photographically-derived reproduction on transparent celluloid.
9. This is a two-sided reproduction of a freestanding window surrounded by a bit of wall with painted imitation brickwork that Duchamp had a carpenter construct in 1921.
10. Wedge of Chastity (1954) belongs to a handful of small cast sculptures that make visual puns based on human sex organs.
11. This is one of a set of twelve designs from 1935 printed on cardboard disks; when it is rotated on a turntable, the illusion of a three-dimensional image in perspective appears.
12. In 1940, Duchamp designed the cardboard container that opens in various ways to reveal the contents of the Box in a Valise.
13. This folded sheet with four pages contains puns and word games made up by Duchamp.
14. In 1923, Duchamp made a wry self-portrait by modifying the text of a gag “Wanted” poster and inserting profile and full-face photographs of himself.
15. Commenting on the relationship of art to commerce, this item reproduces a handmade facsimile of a bank check that Duchamp made by hand, wrote out to his dentist in 1919, and later bought back at a price higher than the amount listed on it.
Order Marcel Duchamp: Boîte-en-valise (or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy) here
Explore our full Duchamp assortment here
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