Throughout a lengthy career, which spanned much of the twentieth century, Marcel Duchamp recast accepted modes for assembling and describing identity. In 1917, having recently arrived in the United States, Duchamp found special significance in a mechanically produced photo-postcard that depicted him simultaneously from five different vantage points, thanks to a hinged mirror. The Five-Way Portrait of Marcel Duchamp suggests the artist’s early recognition of the multifarious nature of personal identity, something he would continue to explore throughout his career. Fascinated with the way portraits shape identity, Duchamp exploited the genre, often turning conventional codes for portrayal on their head.
In 1921 Duchamp famously pictured himself as Rrose Sélavy (a pun translating to “Eros is life,” when pronounced aloud in French). He would associate himself with this female persona throughout the remainder of his career. At the same time, he posed for well-known photographs in which he sported an unconventional tonsure emblazoned with a star. Soon thereafter, he used mugshots to cast himself as a criminal of many aliases wanted for running an illegal gambling operation.
Among the numerous likenesses Duchamp’s playful approach to self-representation inspired are works by artists including Joseph Cornell, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Frederick Kiesler, Daniel MacMorris, Man Ray, Arnold Newman, Francis Picabia, Edward Steichen, Joseph Stella, Florine Stettheimer, and Alfred Stieglitz. Duchamp’s influence extended to artists of the 1960s and 1970s, spurring portraits by Jasper Johns, Ray Johnson, Brian O’Doherty, Richard Pettibone, Sturtevant, and Andy Warhol, among others.
Portraiture of Duchamp has continued since his death with recent depictions by artists such as Ray Beldner, Douglas Gordon, Yasumasa Morimura, and Mark Tansey. Together these works reveal the centrality of portraiture in Duchamp’s career as a tool for cementing friendships, challenging artistic hierarchies, and constructing a persona—dynamics that artists continue to explore today. A small selection is featured here; the gallery exhibition has additional portraits not included on this Web site.
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