Listening to Art

12.10: Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume twelve, number ten: Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp.

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

To close volume twelve and our retrospective of some of my favourites from the previous eleven volumes we will hear three recordings of reproductions of works by Marcel Duchamp, the greatest artist of the twentieth century. This particular work, Bicycle Wheel, we have heard three times before, each a different reproduction in a different gallery. In volume seven number one we heard the work at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, on tour from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and in volume seven number two we heard it at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. This recording we first heard in volume seven number three.

I quote a letter Duchamp wrote to art critic Guy Weelen on 26 June 1955. This is taken from Affectionately, Marcel: The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk and translated by Jill Taylor (pp. 345–346):

Dear Weelen

Sorry to hear you lost my first paper. My recollections as to the apparition of a bicycle wheel mounted on a kitchen stool in my studio in 1913 are too vague and can only be treated as a posteriori reflections. I only remember that the atmosphere created by this intermittent movement was something analogous to the dancing flames of a log fire. It was as if in homage to the useless aspect of something generally used to other ends. In fact, it was a ready made “before the event” as the word only came to me in 1914. I probably accepted the movement of the wheel very gladly as an antidote to the habitual movement of the individual around the contemplated object.

In haste, sincerely yours, Marcel Duchamp

An editorial note corrects Duchamp’s 1914 to 1915.

I also 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

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Denton, William. “Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel.” Listening to Art 07, no. 01 (15 May 2020).

⸻. “Marchel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel.” Listening to Art 07, no. 02 (01 June 2020).

⸻. “Marchel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel.” Listening to Art 07, no. 03 (13 June 2020).

Duchamp, Marcel. Affectionately, Marcel: The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp. Edited by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk. Translated by Jill Taylor. Ghent: Ludion Press, 2000.

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

Wikipedia, s.v. “Bicycle Wheel,”

⸻, s.v. “Marcel Duchamp,”