Listening to Art

07.01: Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume seven, number one: Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

We begin volume seven with three recordings of reproductions of the same work by Marcel Duchamp, the greatest artist of the twentieth century.

Here is the entry for Bicycle Wheel in The Duchamp Dictionary, by Thomas Girst:

Two years before Duchamp coined the term readymade, the very first one came into existence, in Paris in 1913, when he mounted a bicycle wheel onto an upside-down fork, which was fixed to a white kitchen stool. In 1912, during his trip to Munich, Duchamp had seen ordinary and industrial objects exhibited at the Deutsches Museum as well as at the Bavarian Trade Fair. The French government envoy to Munich declared the mass-produced articles on display “entirely to be considered works of art just as painting or a stone sculpture.” Back in Paris later that year, during a visit to an aviation show, Duchamp purportedly asked Fernand Léger (1881–1951) and Constantin Brâncuși (1876–1957), “Painting is over and done with. Who could do anything better than this propeller. Look, could you do that?” As for the Bicycle Wheel, its spokes turn around a central axis similar to a propeller. Duchamp, who had once referred to it as “interior decoration” and never though of exhibiting it for the first four decades of its existence, enjoyed the movement of the wheel, as the reflected light reminded him of a fireplace. Later on, he would refer to the choice of readymades as devoid of aesthetics and taste, involving chance, humour and indifference instead.

Incidentally, just like its second version made in New York in 1916, the original Bicycle Wheel was lost too. The third version, from 1951, previously owned by well-to-do art collector Sidney Janis (1896–1989), has a story attached to it. In August 1995, a young man walked into MoMA and took the Bicycle Wheel from the second floor gallery in which it was permanently exhibited. The thief managed to leave the building unnoticed, returning the artwork the next day by throwing it over the wall of the museum’s sculpture garden.

This is a sculpture, bicycle fork with wheel mounted on a painted wooden stool, fitting in a volume roughly 64 cm wide, 126 cm high and 31 cm deep.

Now let’s listen to Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp, recorded while on tour from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, at the Royal Academy of Arts, in London, on 21 December 2017.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Girst, Thomas. The Duchamp Dictionary. London: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

National Gallery of Canada. “Bicycle Wheel.” National Gallery of Canada.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Bicycle Wheel,”

⸻, s.v. “Marcel Duchamp,”