Listening to Art

07.03: Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel


Download (MP3).


Listening to Art, by William Denton.

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

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

This is the third of three recordings of reproductions of the same work by Marcel Duchamp, the greatest artist of the twentieth century.

I quote from Duchamp: A Biography, by Calvin Tomkins (pp. 422–423), where these reproductions are discussed. They were made by Arturo Schwarz, a Milanese art dealer, at Duchamp’s suggestion.

If the readymades were his way of avoiding the habit-forming drug of art, though, what was the point of making commercial “editions” of them? The point, as several of Duchamp’s friends concluded, was quite simple: his increasing fame had brought him no financial benefits, and his marriage had given him the incentive to earn a little money. “I’m getting something out of it,” he told me. “We can travel first class now, except, of course, on airplanes.” The point may also have been that Duchamp liked to contradict himself and to turn the tables on his most reverent admirers—in this case by refusing to take the readymade idea as seriously as they did. He was very pleased, though, that Schwarz wanted the replicas to be absolutely accurate in every detail. Fountain was remade by a Milanese ceramicist who worked from the original Stieglitz photograph in The Blind Man. Duchamp approved the working drawings for it and for the other replicas, each of which became—irony of ironies—a piece of sculpture imitating a manufactured object. They were introduced to the public in 1964 (the fifty-first anniversary of the original Bicycle Wheel) in a show at the Galleria Schwarz in Milan—thirteen objects in all, each reproduced in an edition of eight (plus four more examples hors concours: one for Schwarz, one for Duchamp, and two others to be used exclusively for exhibition purposes), and priced at $25,000 for a complete set.

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 at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris, on 15 July 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

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

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

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Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Tomkins, Calvin. Duchamp: A Biography. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Bicycle Wheel,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_Wheel.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Marcel Duchamp,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Duchamp.