The Comité Picabia has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Phmarcie Duchamps was created as a submission to Tristan Tzara’s unrealized magnum opus, Dadaglobe, an ambitious anthology that aimed to document Dada’s international activities. Tzara invited some fifty artists from ten countries to submit artworks in four categories: photographic self-portraits, photographs of artworks, original drawings, and layouts for book pages. The present work was submitted for the category of original drawing, and functions as a portrait of Picabia’s friend and fellow artist, Marcel Duchamp.
Duchamp and Picabia first met in Paris in 1911. They shared an irreverent and anarchistic attitude towards life and art, and quickly became friends. Phmarcie Duchamps references Duchamp’s 1914 ready-made, Pharmacie (fig. 1). In an art supply shop, Duchamp bought three copies of a commercial print of a winter landscape by an unknown artist “of the worst kind” (quoted in A. Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1969, p. 445). To the print, he added two small figures in gouache, one in red on the left and one in green on the right. It has been suggested that Duchamp’s ready-made was created to commemorate Suzanne, the artist’s closest sister’s divorce from her husband, Charles Desmares, a pharmacist. Duchamp explained that the two figures also refer to bottles of colored water that were at the time often displayed in pharmacy windows.
In addition to referencing Duchamp’s ready-made, and inverting the order of the colored bottles in the process, Picabia’s use of word play and alliteration is prevalent throughout. The word “pharmacie” is an amalgamation of Picabia’s alter-ego, “Pharamousse” and Duchamp’s nickname, “Marcie.” Pharamousse is first mentioned by Picabia in Duchamp’s sole published issue of the magazine Rongwrong in 1917: “C’est PHARAMOUSSE, c’est l’Amérique.” Thus, Picabia’s alter-ego may have been tied to both Duchamp and America. Connecting the bottles in the present work, is the word “transatlantique,” referring to the international reach of the Dada movement, and specifically to America, across the Atlantic Ocean.
In Paris, just weeks before Tzara sent out the Dadaglobe solicitation letter, the League of Nations convened a committee in the wake of the Great War to recommend a set of international standards for documenting identity. They recommended that passports of all countries have a standardized set of requirements to prove a person’s identity: a photographic portrait, a signature, descriptions of distinctive physical characteristics (such as hair and eye color), date and place of birth, and information regarding the profession, family, and current residence of each individual. As Adrian Sudhalter has explained, “Against the backdrop of what historians have called the ‘administration of identity,’ the Dadaists’ invitation to alter one’s own portrait was tantamount to inviting subterfuge. If a ‘clear’ photograph establishes identity, a manipulated one constructs, alters, conceals, or otherwise destabilizes it” (Dadaglobe Reconstructed, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 42). Through this lens, Picabia’s “portrait” reminds us that identity is an unreliable matter.
Phmarcie Duchamps was planned to be reproduced on the same page as another portrait of Duchamp which Picabia submitted to the anthology (fig. 2). It illustrates the ethos of the anti-movement that turned the senselessness of the war into something convulsive, while simultaneously demonstrating that photographic representation is hardly a guarantee of a stable, fixed identity. Moreover, it documents the close friendship of two of the most dynamic personalities of the avant-garde.
(fig. 1) Marcel Duchamp, Pharmacie, 1917. BARCODE 28865087_fig
(fig. 2) Recreation of Duchamp and Picabia’s page in the unpublished anthology, Dadaglobe.