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Duchamp: A Biography Paperback – March 15, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (March 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057898
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #993,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Marcel Duchamp, born into an artistic middle-class French family in 1887, first gained recognition as an artist in 1913 when he submitted his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 to the Armory Show in New York. The newspapers latched onto it after discovering that there was no trace of a nude, or even a real figure, in the painting, which came to symbolize the movement of modern art toward absurdity, humor, and avant-garde disregard for expectations. As an artist, Duchamp never matched the success and recognition of his most well-known work; later in his career, his works of "art" consisted of signed ceramic urinals. Calvin Tomkins, a writer for The New Yorker who befriended Duchamp in New York in the 1960s, has written the first full-length biography of the enigmatic Dadaist. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Regarded by many in the art world as the most influential artist of the century, Duchamp's work has been the the object of scholarly study and intense art world scrutiny for decades. Duchamp's personal life, however, has largely been neglected, due in part to the artist's legendary disdain for publicity. Here, in addition to an adept analysis of the works and Duchamp's greater impact, Tomkins reconstructs the relationships and everyday life that envelop the well-documented high points on the Duchamp time line. The longtime art critic for the New Yorker, a friend of Duchamp and his wife, and author of The Bride and the Bachelors (1965), Tomkins is uniquely qualified to undertake such a study. The analysis and conclusions are perceptive and never digress into mere voyeurism or dubious psychological speculation. Although the author clearly respects Duchamp, he offers critics' opinions freely, and the narrative moves apace free of the personal adulation for the subject or bile for detractors that bogs down so many current art biographies. Add to these distinctions the fact that Tomkins's writing style is uniquely affable, and Duchamp may be offered both as the most accesible introduction for lay readers and as an exceptionally well-researched, nonspeculative treatise for scholars. Highly recommended for all libraries.
Douglas McClemont, New York
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By "leper2000" on January 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful book to everyone who knows how to read English. Marcel Duchamp was perhaps the premier iconclast of the twentieth century, and the runners up might be Buckminster Fuller & Le Corbusier. The book is NOT a boring monograph; it is a lot of fun to read. Tompkins is a Duchamp enthusiast but manages to wade through the mythology and bull to present the reader with the rosetta stone of Duchamp's life and art. Whether you took a twentieth century art survey in college and only know Duchamp as the guy who wrote R. Mutt on an upside-down urinal or you have read any number of books about the artist you should read this book! Tompkins sucks the reader right into the mind of Duchamp on the first page with a discussion and analysis of The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, one the the greatest and most misunderstood and unappreciated works of the last century. I was an Art History major in college and hence suffered through so many authoritative, pretentious, dry, bland, misinformed, prejudiced and yawn-inducing books that it was such a pleasure to stumble onto Tompkin's Duchamp, which is a reader's book, totally apt since Duchamp was a man's man, a genius, not a theorizing weasal. This book is important because it inspires everyone to question everything you take for granted, and enjoy puns and jokes and the lighter side of life, and that art is there for everyone, not for patrons and the elite, for you and me, and that the contrary notion is absurd.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "sgutman3" on June 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
DUCHAMP: A BIOGRAPHY is a wonderful biography of the artist whom, Tompkins argues persuasively, is the most influential of our almost-completed century. That the art work must be a mental act (a 'cosa mentale,' Leonardo da Vinci had argued many years before); that to be truly creative we need to work AGAINST our esthetic expectations; that art should aspire to be 'non-retinal': these are only some of Duchamp's major perceptions included in this book. What is particularly enjoyable is the way in which Tompkins meshes DuChamps' remarkable life -- one of the most sexually attractive of men, a chess player at the highest levels, an extraordinarily charming and easy person (yet a man who, not matter how much he tried to avoid the repetitive patterns involved in 'art,' was always the consummate artist)with the works of art and 'readymades' which emerged in and from that life. Duchamp's life makes for wonderful reading. What I most recommend about the book is that it stimulates one's own thinking, challenging so much of our conventional beliefs -- in art, in convention, in the concepts of both accomplishment and genius.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 1997
Format: Hardcover
It's probably best for beginners to read about MD's art instead of his life. So for that try one of the other titles. But if you already HAVE read those, as I have, then this book is indispensable because it gives the information behind the information.

Alot of it could be considered gossip but when a guy's entire oeurve is about humor and eroticism, why not read the stories behind the jokes and the love affairs that inspired the work? When a person is as indifferent as MD, why not understand where that attitude came from and which of his many love affairs was able to cut through the detachment?

This book paints a real vivid portrait of MD the person as opposed to the comic book charcter you've all been instructed to adore. The bad news is Duchamp is a bit opaque, even here, so the legend lives on. There are some things we'll never know about him. And some things that I wouldn't have minded if he had elaborated EVEN MORE on. (For instance- we finally get the details behind MD's first bizarre marriage and we are informed that Man Ray shot a film of the wedding but there is no explanation or follow through on THAT. Which sent me scurrying through the citations. Tompkins could have been a bit more scholarly about those.)(Maybe he should write another book about how he wrote this one. In the world of Duchampiana that wouldn't be unreasonable.) But the good news is that all the stories available are compiled in one easy-to-curl-up-with biography that reveals the real history of 20th Century Art in a straightforward manner. No more jumping from book to book to find out who this one or that one is, who thinks what, which gossip is here, which is there. It's all collected HERE. With deep background. No more Buick-sized coffee table books or 70 pound upside-down tomes to wrestle with.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Borden B. Burns on June 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
You don't have to like modern art to enjoy this remarkable biography about the most influention and controversial artists of the twentieth century. Tompkins explores the various interpretations of the art of Marcel Duchamp, most amusing of which is that of the artist himself (he was very laissez-fair when it came to expounding upon his own art). If the reader is not a fan of modern art (least of all the Dada movement) he or she will still find pleasure in reading about the life and times of this man of extreme wit and humor. The book reads like a who's-who of the pre and post world war II art world. Dealers, artists, and collectors who filled Duchamps world are just as amusing as characters in a comical work of fiction. The day to day life of people like Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst, Francis Picabia and Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia, Katherine Dryer, and Andre Breton, and the ever popular and exclusive members of the surrealist group is explored in comical detail. This book can also be looked at as a crash course in twentieth art history. Duchamp is explored in the most scholarly manner, but Tompkins keeps his study on a level that makes it easy to read.
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