1983 by Princeton University Press
mathematics, geometry, non-Euclidean geometry, Marcel Duchamp
One of Duchamp’s last specific comments on geometry was hisUnhappy Readymade of 1919. At the time of the marriage of his sister, Suzanne, to Jean Crotti, the artist sent instructions to the couple in Paris to suspend a geometry book by strings on their balcony. Duchamp later described the intended results:
“The wind had to go through the book, choose its own problems, turn and tear out the pages… It amused me to bring the idea of happy and unhappy into readymades, and then the rain, the wind, the pages flying, it was an amusing idea.”*
*Duchamp, as quoted in Cabanne, Dialogues, p. 61
In the Unhappy Readymade the more familiar irreverent Duchamp appears to have replaced once again the scholar revealed in the A l’infinitifnotes. Duchamp’s days of concentrated geometric scholarship were largely over by the time he left France in 1915 and were certainly so by 1919. Still, it is not the new geometries that the Unhappy Readymade subverts, for the geometry text hung on the balcony deals with Euclidean plane geometry. In fact, the result of action by the wind and rain would be non-Euclidean: the inevitable buckling and tearing of the pages would produce non-Euclidean deformations of the Euclidean diagrams in the text.
or Readymade Malheureux
or Readymade Malheureux
|The Box in a Valise version|
|Original Version:1919, Buenos Aires|
geometry textbook hung outside
and exposed to elements
no dimensions recorded
A geometry textbook, this Readymade was literally exposed to the elements. It was opened face up, suspended in midair and rigged to the corners of an outdoor porch. The book was left suspended in this manner for an extended length of time and the weather took its toll on it. The wind tore its pages, the rain drenched it, and the sun bleached and faded its ink over time. Unhappy Readymade was made in this manner not by Duchamp, but by his sister Suzanne. She was instructed to make it through written correspondence with her brother. Ramirez notes that this Readymade was in fact to be her wedding present (45).
Harriet and Sidney Janis explain that this "treatise seriously got the facts of life" (Masheck 37). It "epitomizes the conflict between human knowledge and the eternal verities. Duchamp accepts as inevitable the action of the forces of nature, the changes which time effects, its proclivity for corroding, destroying, reducing to rubbish all that man builds, is its haste in covering all human traces with dust" (Masheck 37-8).
|Marcel Duchamp's Unhappy Readymade, 1920|
oil on canvas, Suzanne Duchamp
The title clearly illustrates Duchamp's personification of the textbook by assigning it human feelings. Just like a human, it is not happy to be left outside in the unpredictable weather for an extended length of time. Similar personification may be seen in a number of other Readymades as well, including Fresh Widow.
This Readymade also addresses Duchamp's interest in chance, for no one can ever precisely predict the weather and how it will affect atextbook. In a sense, just like in Three Standard Stoppages, chance is the true artist of this Readymade. However, authorship is, of course, a complex issue here as well. After all, Duchamp and his sister both may seem to be the artist.
In a 1966 interview, Duchamp provided the following explanation of this unique Readymade:
|"It was a geometry book, which he had to hang by strings on the balcony of his apartment in the rue Condamine; the wind had to go through the book, choose its own problems, turn and tear out the pages. Suzanne did a small painting of it, 'Marcel's Unhappy Readymade.' That's all that's left, since the wind tore it up. It amused me to bring the idea of happy and unhappy into readymades, and then the rain, the wind, the pages flying, it was an amusing idea…" (61).|
les Duchamps : combined play, cheating or secrets