Our art columnist shares fascinating history behind Boîte-en-valise that’s now in Cincinnati and has an interesting connection to the area.
Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte–en-valise on view now through May 6, 2018
When Marcel Duchamp released Boîte–en-valise (Box in a Valise) on January 1, 1941, it transformed twentieth-century art.
The artwork is a “portable museum” that contains 68 small-scale replicas, models and reproductions of Duchamp’s works, including paintings, drawings, objects and “ready-mades” (found objects presented as art).
Each work in Boîte–en-valise is labeled with title, medium, date and, in some cases, the owner of the original. Rather than creating new pieces, Duchamp was most interested in making replicas. This process was an extension of his other “ready-mades,” which challenged the ideas of originality and the value of unique works.
Packing artworks into a suitcase made it possible to smuggle the work out of France during the Nazi occupation. The Boîte–en-valise was a way of reconstituting Duchamp’s life’s work and circulating it to a wide audience. It contains miniatures of his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912), which scandalized Americans when it was exhibited; the construction The Large Glass; and Fountain, a urinal signed with the pseudonym “R. Mutt.”
Duchamp was a French-American painter, sculptor, chess player and writer whose work is associated with conceptual art and avant-garde art movements including Cubism and Dada. His goal was to serve the mind.
The Boîte–en-valise has a special connection to Cincinnati. In 1954 Duchamp married Alexina “Teeny” Sattler, a Cincinnati native. The work was given to Teeny’s sister Agnes and her husband with a special dedication on the Coeurs volants (Fluttering Hearts).
Photograph courtesy of the Harrison Family.