Executed in 1924, Marcel Duchamp’s Monte Carlo Bond (No. 30) was the result of the artist’s system of wagering in roulette, a discovery after a series of experiments with the laws of chance at the gambling tables of Monte Carlo. The system was based on nearly endless throws of the dice, so that profit would be accumulated only through an excruciatingly gradual process, a true test of patience. To expand upon the principles of the system and its profits, he simply increased the amounts of money wagered and conceived of a plan to procure investors by issuing a bond, a legal document that Duchamp himself carefully designed. The bond features a diagrammatic, overhead view of a roulette table, crowned at the summit by a photo-collaged portrait of Duchamp by Man Ray. Duchamp’s head is completely enveloped in layers of shaving lather, his hair peaked into two devilish horns, with the mock legality of this bond further emphasized by a pun – “moustiques domestiques demi-stock” (domestic mosquitoes half-stock) – repeated in green ink in a continuous pattern on the background.
Though the imagery is humorous and deliberately tongue-in-cheek, the bond was intended to be a bona fide legal document, with a strict distinction between the bonds that carried a legal stamp and those that did not. Although all copies of bond bear the signature “M. Duchamp,” only the numbered bonds bearing a fifty-centimes stamp were to be considered legal documents, officially entitling their owners to collect shares in the dividends of the company. Years later, Duchamp would engage in a similar procedure to elevate common reproductions of his own paintings to the status of original works of art, once again throwing into question the importance that should be assigned to an artist’s signature, a concern that recurred in Duchamp’s work, most famously with the concept of the readymade.
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