Skip to Content

Duchamp on Artists: Excerpts from an Interview with Arturo Schwarz

The following are excerpts taken from an interview by the author with Arturo Schwarz in late September. Mr. Schwarz is author of The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, recently published by Delano and Greenidge.

DR ­– Over the course of your friendship with Duchamp, did he ever express interest in the work of contemporary artists? Did he perceive contemporaries as exploring or extending issues that he first addressed?

AS ­– Of course! He was on very friendly terms with many of the most important American artists of the time. I remember that he had a great interest in Arakawa, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and George Segal. You know Duchamp and Breton had one thing in common; they both said that the new generation can make as important contributions to literature in the case of Breton and art in the case of Duchamp as their own contemporaries. They were very much involved with what was going on, and they were appreciative.

Arturo Schwarz and Marcel Duchamp in 1964, photo credit: Vera Schwarz.

DR ­– How did Duchamp feel about the Pop Art movement?

AS ­– He had mixed feelings. Among the so-called pop artists there were artists that he liked very much and artists in whom he was less interested. He was not interested in movements but in individuals. Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and George Segal interested him. He was interested in quality and individuals, not rules.

DR ­– What sort of dialogue existed between Duchamp and the league of conceptual artists? Did he feel a particular affinity with the work of John Cage?

AS ­– Ah, very much! They were good friends.

DR ­– Might there have been influences between them?

AS ­– Of Duchamp on John Cage? Certainly. But not vice versa. What John Cage did was practically a development of the ideas of Duchamp; a conceptual music rather than a music that appeals only to the ear. It’s the same basic principle. Chance operations and silence are Duchampian ideas.

DR ­– Do you believe that Piero Manzoni’s signing people was an extension of the readymade idea? What sort of relationship existed between Manzoni and Duchamp?

AS ­– No reciprocal relationship. Manzoni was a very dear friend of mine and I gave him the first retrospective exhibition ever, soon after he died. He was a great admirer of Duchamp, it is obvious that his gesture and attitude were greatly influenced by Duchamp. He chose different ways to express it, and that is why it is so important. He developed the ideas of Duchamp in another area, like Artist’s Shit for example, or the line, or signing people. They are always developments of Duchamp’s idea of an art that was more conceptual than retinal.

DR ­– Did Duchamp ever discuss the future of art or aesthetics?

AS ­– I will refer you to the last chapter of my book. In one word, he thought that art would always reinvent itself but he was afraid of the homogeneity of artistic expression. He was really against fashions and always said that above all the artist must be an individual. He hated the “ant system.” That is artists who become like ants, all doing the same thing.

DR ­– What do you think is the most enduring legacy of Marcel Duchamp’s artistic production?

AS ­– He encouraged independence of thinking and starting from the tabula rasa. He demonstrated that one must contribute to an ambitious visual and intellectual undertaking, never repeating oneself and never repeating what somebody else has already done. He believed in the importance of being oneself, and independent, never looking for models. Being one’s own lamp as the Buddha said. That I think is Duchamp’s main lesson to contemporary artists.

© Daniel Rothbart, 2000.

Back to top