Jacqueline Matisse Monnier and the Association Marcel Duchamp have confirmed the authenticity of this work.
There was nothing like it before, nor has there been since: a work absolutely sui generis, a major modern artist’s virtual museum in portable miniature. The marvelous impact of this landmark compilation stems from the stimulating mix of the radically influential paintings and objects represented therein, by which Marcel Duchamp irreversibly altered our understanding of the issues Francis M. Naumann has concisely framed as “the art of making art in the age of mechanical reproduction” (op. cit., 1999 and 2012). The ramifications of this prescient artist’s ideas are everywhere evident in the art of our time, from Warhol’s Brillo boxes to Richter’s recent Patterns and STRIPS. This is Marcel Duchamp’s La boîte-en-valise [The Box in a Valise] specifically number XI of the twenty boxes I through XX/XX, which, together with four boxes the artist added hors-série (designated O/XX), comprise the deluxe ‘Series A’ edition of de ou par MARCEL DUCHAMP ou RROSE SÉLAVY [from or by MARCEL DUCHAMP or RROSE SÉLAVY] (Schwarz, no. 484). Duchamp conceived the album idea in early 1935 and first produced it in box form during the wartime occupation of Paris in 1941; he completed the ‘Series A’ edition, including the present work, in New York between 1942 and 1949.
The present ‘Series A’ example, is unique as Duchamp inscribed on the valise which contains the box the name of its first owner, Orin Raphael. The subscriber who ordered the box from Duchamp was actually Raphael’s soon-to-be wife Elizabeth–née Rockwell (for whom a handwritten dedication appears inside of the box by the artist), later known as Betty Raphael–who in 1941 at the age of twenty-one opened Outlines, the first gallery in Pittsburgh dedicated to showing modern art. This deluxe Boîte-en-valise has remained in the Raphael family’s possession since it was acquired from Duchamp in 1944 and had held pride of place at the Tate Gallery, London, where it had been on loan since 1999.
La boîte-en-valise (Series A) is an attaché-case-sized box of cloth-covered cardboard enclosed in a protective leather-covered valise with a convenient handle. Duchamp ingeniously designed the Boîte to open by stages and unfold before one’s eyes, thus revealing its diverse yet carefully organized contents. Inside are 69 superbly executed hand-worked reproductions–state-of-the-art in their time–of works drawn from the entire span of Duchamp’s career, from 1910 through the late 1930s. Each of the boxes in the deluxe ‘Series A’ furthermore contains a 70th work as a subscription bonus, “a signed original work”–in the case of the Raphael Boîte-en-valise XI, a cut and torn paper collage which shows the coastline of the eastern and southeastern United States, mysteriously incorporating drawn studies for Pocket Chess Set, 1943 (Schwarz, nos. 496-504).
Duchamp aimed in La boîte-en-valise to present the viewer with a compact retrospective compendium of his paintings, drawings, readymades and other objects, with writings as well, amounting to a nearly comprehensive inventory of his significant oeuvre up until that time. “The manifold overlaps and cross-references in his work as a whole are reflected in the spatial construction of the Boîte, as well as in the arrangement of the reproductions,” Ecke Bonk has written. “His artistic statements and achievements, in all their heterogeneous and many-side profusion, are presented here by Duchamp as a carefully ordered whole” (op. cit., 1989, p. 9).
By far the most elaborate of the four important boxes that Duchamp created during his career, La boîte-en-valise is deservedly celebrated for being the most imaginatively conceived and rigorously painstaking in its fabrication. There are five known versions (one of them now lost) of The Box of 1914 (Schwarz, no. 285); these contain varying materials that include fifteen notes, photographed and contact printed on photographic paper and one photograph of a drawing relating to drawings for La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even [The Large Glass]), 1915-1923 (Schwarz, no. 404; The Philadelphia Museum of Art). The Box of 1932 (Schwarz, no. 432) contains Duchamp’s manuscript, drawings and diagrams for his chess treatise L’opposition et les cases conjuguées sont réconciliées.
In both America and Europe Duchamp had a small but dedicated following of cognoscenti; he was virtually unknown, however, to a wider public, and realized there was no prospect of a major mid-career exhibition such as that which Picasso and Matisse had been given during the early 1930s to publicly showcase their achievements. As the decade was drawing to a close, moreover, the tense political situation in Europe suggested to Duchamp it was unlikely he could remain there for long. “The urge to preserve (through reproduction) his past work may have acquired by this time a new incentive: the increasingly ominous threat of a European war,” Calvin Tomkins has written. “Duchamp, like many others, was packing his bags” (op. cit., 1996, p. 116). It was now time to take stock of his career, self-curate and package in some kind of manageable portfolio his singularly intriguing inventory of art works. And by stages he came to that realize that this project should be regarded as an art work of a novel and original kind in its own right.
Duchamp began to assemble the material for his “album”, which he had not yet determined would be contained in a box, during the spring of 1935. While undertaking various individual projects for surrealist publications in Paris, he continued to compete in chess tournaments, an activity which many assumed to be his primary professed occupation; he also wrote a weekly column on the subject for the Paris newspaper Ce Soir. In May he sailed to America, where he spent two months piecing back together the fragments of The Large Glass, which in 1927 had shattered in transport and in that condition was unviewable. He installed the repaired work, sandwiched between two pieces of plate glass secured in a metal frame and now ready to be photographed for his album, in the library of Dreier’s home in West Redding, Connecticut. This work would be the centerpiece of his album.
To create his reproductions Duchamp employed the technique known as pochoir, in which colors were brushed on by hand, guided by a series of stencils, over finely grained, subtly half-toned collotypes prepared from black and white photographs of the original works. This process gave results superior to offset lithography or any kind of color photographic reproduction then in use.
As he compiled the reproductions, Duchamp decided in early 1940 that his album would not be presented or published in book form, but would be organized as an elaborate box with opening wings and internal compartments. As Naumann has pointed out, the box design may have derived from “the 17th or 18th century Flemish Kunstkabinet, a piece of furniture designed like a treasure box,” although “sources closer to home were more likely, such as the display cases that were used to house a variety of household products...which could be found in almost any Parisian department store from the beginning of the century” (op. cit., 1999, p. 140).
“The magnitude of the logistics of the whole album project is hard to comprehend,” Bonk has written. “Duchamp never before or after conducted an enterprise depending on so many people and different kinds of professionals–comparable in scale and the required precise choreography only to a film production” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 103). Most of the reproductions for the first series of boxes had been completed when German armies invaded France in May 1940, forcing the artist to leave Paris and seek safety in the seaside village of Arcachon, near Bordeaux. Duchamp continued his project by enlisting the skills of a local printer. He decided that a certain number of the boxes would be kept in a portable container for convenient carrying and safe storage, in consideration, perhaps, of the perilous circumstances of wartime living. This is the true Boîte-en-valise; a box lacking the container is, correctly speaking, simply known as the Boîte.
When he returned in September to German-occupied Paris, Duchamp had printed a bulletin de souscription in which he announced that on 1 January 1941 he would commence publication of the tirage de luxe of 20 numbered examples of de ou par MARCEL DUCHAMP ou RROSE SÉLAVY, 69 items plus an original work by the artist. He set the price at 5,000 francs–reduced, however, to 4,000 francs (then around $200) if the buyer placed an order before 1 March 1941. The announcement contained a reply order form that could be snipped off and sent in; it carried the promise that the subscriber would receive the completed box in no more than a month’s time.
Duchamp received his first order from Peggy Guggenheim, which he completed and dispatched via his friend the writer Henri-Pierre Roché to her in Grenoble. In May Duchamp completed O/XX for his companion Mary Reynolds, and II/XX for the poet and graphic artist Georges Hugnet. Roché received III/XX, which Duchamp had reserved for him, in June. Duchamp was by now preparing to leave France for the United States, as many French artists and intellectuals had already done, but he needed a way to get his album production out of the country as well. Assuming the guise of a traveling buyer of cheese, Duchamp obtained the necessary passes that enabled him to move with relative freedom between occupied Paris and points south. During the course of several trips he transported enough components for around fifty boxes to Marseilles, his likely port of departure.
Duchamp then learned that Guggenheim was preparing to move her art from storage in the Grenoble Museum; she would disguise the collection as household goods to avoid export difficulties, and ship everything from Marseilles to New York. Duchamp then moved to Grenoble two cases of box materials; Guggenheim gladly included them in her shipment, which she sent off prior to leaving France in July 1941. The Boîte materials arrived in New York long before Duchamp eventually showed up to use them. It was not until the following spring that he finally obtained the necessary passport, exit papers and visas that would allow him to leave France. He gave La boîte IV/XX (without a valise) as a parting gift to his friends André and Harriet Gomes. On 14 May 1942 Duchamp sailed from Marseilles and made his way to New York, where he arrived on 25 June.
Soon after his arrival Duchamp met several times with Joseph Cornell, of all American artists the one he most admired. On 31 July he brought to Cornell’s home in Flushing, Queens, an example of La boîte-en-valise for study and discussion. Soon afterwards Cornell began assisting in the assembly of the boxes. By the end of the year Duchamp completed and signed numbers V/XX for Bernard Reis, VI/XX for Sidney Janis, VII/XX for Elizabeth Paepcke and VIII/XX for James Johnson Sweeney. During 1943 Duchamp presented IX/XX to the Museum of Modern Art (on 10 June Cornell received from Duchamp $20 in payment for working on this box and a regular edition example). The remaining balance of hors série examples designated O/XX were completed for Dreier, Arensberg and Kay Boyle. In January 1944 La boîte-en-valise X/XX was ready for Julien Levy.
In her chronology for the exhibition Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...in Resonance, Susan Davidson notes that during the spring of 1944 Duchamp completed and signed La boîte en valise XI/XX “for Orin Raphael, the husband of Elizabeth Rockwell” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 287). Elizabeth Rockwell had met Orin Raphael, a furniture designer, just before she opened the gallery she called “Outlines” in 1941. While Raphael was serving overseas during the Second World War, Elizabeth ordered La boîte-en-valise from Duchamp and had the artist inscribe it with his name. Elizabeth and Orin married following the latter’s return at war’s end. Around the same time Duchamp was working on Orin Raphael’s box, Elizabeth Rockwell was showing during March-April 1944 Surrealist Objects–Toys, Peep-Shows, Pin-Ball Machines and Others–by Joseph Cornell at Outlines, including Magic Soap Bubble Set, 1940, which remained in her family’s possession until it was auctioned at Christie's in 2013 and achieved the record price at the time for this artist.
Andy Warhol and fellow art students in Pittsburgh liked to visit Outlines, where Betty Raphael carried on a full schedule of exhibitions, concerts, film showings and lectures until the gallery closed in 1947. He probably had his first encounter with Duchamp’s work at Outlines, possibly viewing this very Boîte-en-valise. Years later Warhol acquired the Reis Boîte-en-Valise V/XX; it was subsequently sold in his estate sale during 1988.
La boîte-en-valise nos. XII-XX/XX were completed between the summers of 1946 and 1949. Work proceeded on the unnumbered “Series B” through 1954. “Series C” through “F”, executed in Paris, were realized between 1958 and March 1971, posthumously completing the edition of around 300 examples that Duchamp had planned at the outset some three decades earlier, incorporating various modifications, alterations, additions and subtractions made along the way.
Duchamp’s ideas about organizing the contents of La boîte-en-valise indeed proved useful when he was finally given his first and only lifetime museum retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963. Walter Hopps, the young curator who had taken on the job of presenting Duchamp’s work to the public, took the title of the show from La boîte-en-valise–“by or from Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy”–and installed the galleries to reflect the affinities and cross-relationships between various works as the artist had ordered and arranged them within the internal divisions and compartments of his portable box. The exhibition was revelatory, and inspired important gallery shows devoted to Duchamp’s work later in the decade. Following Duchamp’s death in October 1968, Jasper Johns offered this tribute in appreciation:
“Marcel Duchamp, one of this century’s pioneer artists, moved his work through the retinal boundaries which had been established with Impressionism into a field where language, thought and vision act upon one another. There it changed form through a complex interplay of new mental and physical materials, heralding many of the technical, mental and visual details to be found in more recent art... He declared that he wanted to kill art (‘for myself’) but his persistent attempts to destroy frames of reference altered our thinking, established new units of thought, ‘a new thought for that object.’ The art community feels Duchamp’s presence and his absence. He changed the condition of being here” (“Marcel Duchamp [1887-1968],” Artforum, vol. VII, no. 3, Nov. 1968, p. 6).
Marcel Duchamp displaying an incomplete Boîte in the apartment of Peggy Guggenheim, New York, August 1942. Reproduced in Time, 7 September 1972.
Elizabeth Rockwell, Director of the gallery Outlines, Pittsburgh.
Marcel Duchamp and Katherine Dreier in her library, West Redding, Connecticut, with the repaired Large Glass, 1936. Photograph in the collection of the Société Anonyme, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.
Marcel Duchamp, drawing for the design of La boîte-en-valise, 1940. Duchamp Estate, Villiers-sous-Grez.
Page from the catalogue for the Grands Magasins du Louvres, 1903. Ronny van de Velde, Belgium.
Joseph Cornell, Magic Soap Bubble Set, 1940. Formerly in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Orin Raphael; sold, Christie’s New York, 15 May 2013, lot 19.