The Association Duchamp Villon Crotti has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.
In 1916, Suzanne Duchamp was serving as a wartime nurse in Paris when the painter Jean Crotti, whom she would later marry, returned from New York bearing news of the radically innovative and willfully provocative art that her older brother Marcel had created since his arrival in America the previous year. Although Suzanne had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Rouen during her youth, absorbing the influences of Fauvism and Cubism, she ceased painting when the war began. Now, Crotti’s enthusiastic report motivated her to pick up her brushes once again. During the ensuing six years, she produced a small number of exceptionally inventive paintings and collages that represent a major, but unjustly overlooked, contribution to the Dada revolution and a vital link between avant-garde activities in Paris and New York in this period.
Radiation de deux seuls éloignés is Suzanne Duchamp’s direct challenge to outdated modes of representation and conventional materials in art; she instead chose symbols and structures from the world of science and technology to explore human relationships in the modern age. She began this large and complex work in 1916, when her brother Marcel, along with Picabia and Man Ray, were all exploring the expressive potential of machine imagery in New York. She returned to this collage repeatedly over a long period, testament to its central, defining importance in her oeuvre. The inscription indicates that she completed it in 1920, the same year that Dada burst onto the Parisian stage, shocking contemporary audiences with its blatant subversion of aesthetic conventions and its disruption of the culturally conservative, post-war rappel à l’ordre.
The two dominant forms in this collage have been interpreted as a cage-like antenna above and a rectangular receiving grid beneath, which together represent the deux seuls éloignés of the title—“Two Solitary Beings Apart,” most likely a pair of separated lovers (L.D. Henderson, op. cit., 1998, pp. 111-112). As in Picabia’s mechanomorphic paintings, Suzanne has used machine imagery as an allegory of the human subject, emphasizing the functional aspect of social and sexual relations over humanist notions of romantic love and individual determinacy. While the deux seuls in the present work are physically joined only by a single fragile line, the large dot in the center of the grid suggests that it has begun to register the signals emitted from the antenna. The lovers may be situated at a distance, as Suzanne and Crotti frequently were during these years, but there is a successful, effective connection between them.
The term “radiation” in the title further suggests unseen lines of communication between the two figures—either some sort of magnetic force, a metaphor for sexual or romantic attraction, or remote transmissions facilitated through the new technologies of radio and wireless telegraphy. The underlying gridded background, which draws upon the professional practice of mechanical drawing, also links the deux seuls to one another. Surrounding and sometimes penetrating these central forms are an array of brightly colored shapes, several of which evoke beams of light, that radiate at various angles across the pictorial space. The gridded matrix nevertheless holds fast, and various found materials, including strings of glass beads and bits of crumpled tinfoil, reinforce the integrity of the two protagonists. Unlike Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, whose theme is the failure of consummation between the bride and her bachelors, Suzanne posits a fundamental optimism about the potential for sustained human relationships in the aftermath of a devastating world war.
“The work of Suzanne Duchamp displays a complexity, in terms of intellectual and aesthetic concerns, to match [that of] her male colleagues,” Ruth Hemus has written. “She provided visions of male-female relationships from a woman’s viewpoint, in the midst of a largely male-dominated spread of visual art. Her preoccupations were neither explicable solely through her relationship with her brother nor through that with her husband, but rather through the impetus to stretch and expose the limits of visual and verbal sign systems, to extend the materials available to the artist, and to investigate new ways of depicting identity and sexuality” (op. cit., 2009, p. 163).
By the time that Suzanne Duchamp completed Radiation de deux seul éloignés, she and Crotti had married, the second time for both of them. Suzanne had wed a pharmacist from Rouen in 1911 but divorced after only two years; when Crotti returned to Paris in 1916, he left behind in New York his estranged wife Yvonne Chastel, who subsequently took up with Marcel Duchamp. On the occasion of Suzanne and Crotti’s nuptials in April 1919, Marcel sent the couple instructions for his Ready-made malheureux, which involved suspending a geometry textbook on the porch and letting the wind and rain gradually tear it apart. Notwithstanding this rather inauspicious gift, their union endured for nearly four decades, until Crotti’s death in 1958.
Suzanne and Crotti both exhibited their recent work at the post-war re-opening of the Salon des Indépendants in 1920. “Their paintings were second only to Picabia’s as a source for the public image of Dadaist art,” William Camfield has written, although Picabia attracted the lion’s share of critical outrage (exh. cat., op. cit., 1983, p. 20). Radiation de deux seul éloignés was not included in the Salon, perhaps because it was not yet complete; the two collages that Suzanne did exhibit, Un et une menacés and Multiplication brisée et rétablie, are among her only pre-1920 works of comparable complexity and innovation.
In January 1921, Suzanne Duchamp signed the provocative manifesto Dada soulève tout (“Dada stirs up everything”); that spring, she and Crotti mounted a joint exhibition at the Galerie Montaigne, selecting the title Tabu Dada to denote their particular brand. By the following year, however, Suzanne had already begun to move toward a more conventional, figurative mode of art. Her Dada moment—which for a brief, intense period placed her firmly at the heart of avant-garde preoccupations—had passed.