Dada Data: Books and Boîtes by Marcel Duchamp and Others online 9—16 November 2020 at Sothebys.com
- by Announcement, Rare Book Hub staff
Carlos Alberto Cruz a distinguished Chilean architect, art collector, and connoisseur, was also a renowned bibliophile and Honorary Director of the Sociadad de Bibliofilos Chilenos. He assembled a notable collection of Spanish Old Master paintings, drawings and sculpture and collected Colonial silver. Señor Cruz’s book-collecting categories spanned centuries and continents and not all his interests were strictly antiquarian. He also had a deep and abiding interest in the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century and collected art, photography, and books and manuscripts of the period.
It almost seems inevitable that a collector as wide-ranging and cerebral as Señor Cruz would develop a great interest in the books and other printed materials of Marcel Duchamp (1887- 1968).
From Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso and Matisse and on to Warhol and Hockney, the modern era produced an abundance of great artists who were also superb book illustrators. But Marcel Duchamp moved far beyond the category of book illustrator. He began his career as a rather tame Post-Impressionist, before making his mark in Cubism, Dadaism, Conceptual Art, Kinetic Art, and beyond. Though interested in visual phenomena, he sought to move beyond what he called “retinal art,” a term he first used to describe the art of Matisse.
A visitor to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s austere Duchamp galleries must confront the artist’s Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even) of 1915-23. That construction of glass, wire, oil paint, wood, etc, is only the outward manifestation of the total artwork. For Duchamp the idea was the work of art. His art was conceived via notes jotted down on all types of paper, mechanical drawings, mathematical calculations, chess strategies, and reading and research. All these conceptual elements were part of the composition. After creating the Large Glass, Duchamp issued The Green Box, a collection of facsimiles of his notes and calculations for the project, thus giving the interested spectator a more complete access to the artwork. Throughout his working life, the artist would issue collections of writings, replicas and miniatures of his earlier artworks, and facsimiles, carefully supervising their production. In addition to standard-format books, Duchamp created his boîtes—boxes holding unbound printed fragments, photographic reproductions and three-dimensional replicas.
Duchamp was particularly well-suited to bring his art into the bookish realm. In 1905, as part of his compulsory French military service, he was assigned to work with a printer in Rouen. There he developed a love of typography and printing processes. In 1913, he worked as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, and later worked occasionally as a librarian in New York. Even Duchamp’s creation of a drag persona had its origins in bibliophilia. His feminine alter ego, Rrose Sélavy (i.e., Eros, c’est la vie) was inspired by Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan’s librarian and later director of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Greene was known for her stylish wardrobe and once remarked, “Just because I’m a librarian doesn’t mean I have to dress like one.” Rrose Sélavy followed suit, appearing in photographs as a chic but somewhat matronly flapper.
The Cruz Collection contains many of the landmark printed works created by Duchamp, often with distinguished collaborators. He was backed by gallerists and printers who made many of the works possible: P. A. B. in Paris, Arturo Schwarz in Milan, Cordier & Ekstrom in New York, and others. A list of his artistic and literary collaborators is dazzling: Man Ray, André Breton, George Hugnet, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Picabia, Octavio Paz, Robert Lebel, and others.
The highlight of the collection is undoubtedly the celebrated Boîte-en-Valise (pre-sale est. $150,000--$250,000), a three-dimensional monograph of Duchamp’s oeuvre comprising reproductions and miniature replicas. He once remarked, “Everything important that I have done can be put into a little suitcase.”
Georges Hugnet and Duchamp’s Le septième face du dé, with photographic covers by Duchamp ($40,000--$60,000) is present, as is Le surrealism en 1947 with the notorious foam rubber breast on the cover ($8000--$12,000). For the completist (and miniaturist?) there are several diminutive volumes, incl. one of 30 copies of Possible ($4000--$6000), one of 24 copies of Quatre inédits ($2000--$3000), and an hors commerce copy of Hugnet’s Marcel Duchamp ($6000--$8000).
In these books and objects, Duchamp extended an open invitation: “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the extended world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contributions to the creative act.” Many have accepted this invitation, from John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Fluxus artists, Conceptual artists to Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Eve Babitz, and a host of others. Adventurous bibliophiles such as Carlos Alberto Cruz have also entered into and enriched the collaboration.
Here is a link to sale No. N10561. It begins on Monday 9 November, 2020. The last opportunities to bid are scheduled on 16 November, 2020.