Marcel Duchamp in Munich 1912

Marcel Duchamp in Munich 1912

On the 100th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s stay in Munich the Lenbachhaus has decided to mark this key moment in the artist’s life with an exhibition.

Marcel Duchamp changed art history. His painting "Nude, Descending a Staircase, No. 2" (1912) captured the ideas and influences of a whole epoch in one iconic image. His readymades fundamentally altered our ideas of what art is, of how artists produce it, and of the institution of the museum – unlike no other idea in the art of the twentieth century.

In late June 1912, Duchamp got off a train in Munich with the intention of visiting a good friend, Max Bergmann. He decided to extend his stay, and soon was living in lodgings in the Barerstraße. In the Blue Rider Almanach he is mentioned as an interesting talent – at the young age of twenty-five. In the end he stayed nearly three months, developed several significant works, some of which can be seen today in museums such as the New York Museum of Modern Art, which owns the painting "The Passage from Virgin to Bride". He prepared further works, among them "The Large Glass". When visiting the Deutsches Museum (a museum of masterpieces of science and technology) and the Bavarian Arts and Crafts Show, he discovered important technical details that inspired his work. He wrote postcards from the Hofbräuhaus and of Nymphenburg Palace, and had his picture taken by Heinrich Hoffmann. Frequently he visited the Alte Pinakothek, where paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder were to have a lasting influence on his work. He also travelled from Munich – once he spent a whole day on the train to Andelot-en-Montagne in the Jura region of France, where, madly in love, he met Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia for just a few hours. She was married to the artist Picabia, who – to make things even more complicated – was also a good friend of Duchamp. The Munich episode is rich both in art historical significance and personal anecdote.

Later Duchamp was to write of his time in Munich: "My stay in Munich was the scene of my complete liberation". For the Lenbachhaus, it is of great interest that Duchamp acquired Wassily Kandinsky’s book "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" in Munich, and that he made notes on his copy as he read. This period in Munich was highly productive for Duchamp. What exactly his "complete liberation" in Munich meant for his work, is, however, disputed among art historians. Shortly after his visit to the Bavarian capital he assembled his "Bicycle Wheel" (1913), which is seen as the first readymade in art history, redefining an industrially produced object as a work of art. Was it while he was in Munich that Duchamp developed his first ideas for this revolutionary moment in art history? Did he find the inspiration for this in the Deutsches Museum?

What were the influences that led to such a radical redefinition of the concept of art? These are the questions that the Munich exhibition will consider. The initial motive for Duchamp’s journey seems clear – he left Paris in annoyance, after his "Nude, Descending a Staircase, No. 2" had been rejected by the Salon des Indépendants. Today this is considered one of the most famous paintings of the modernist period. For many years this painting has not been exhibited in Europe, and it has never been on display in Germany. But it will be included in the Lenbachhaus exhibition. Marcel Duchamp has never before been the subject of a solo show in Munich, and no work of his is owned by a public collection here – which makes this Lenbachhaus exhibition both long overdue and all the more important.

The exhibition will include loans from the The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate, London, The Menil Collection in Houston, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Staatliches Museum Schwerin and many private lenders.

A publication will accompany the show with with texts by Kornelia von Berswordt-Wallrabe, Steffen Bogen, Ecke Bonk, Herbert Molderings and Michael R. Taylor, as well as by Paul B. Franklin, Helmut Friedel, Thomas Girst, Antonia Napp, Matthias Mühling, Helena Pereña, Felicia Rappe and Kornelia Röder.