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Courses: Diploma of Graphic Design (CUV50311), Diploma of Visual Art (CUV50111)

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Class 11 - Lecture Notes

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Lecture Notes - Convergence of media - assemblage, the object and remix: Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell

Today I want to look specifically at two artists that have been extremely influential over the past 100 years - and are still influencing may contemporary artists and designers today including those that work with installation, new media and digital technologies. Both of these artists are considered iconoclasts (i.e. they went against or outside of traditional and popular beliefs and practices, challenging the idea of what an artist is or might be), and their work has stood the test of time, proving extremely relevant to current creative practice.


Marcel Duchamp


Marcel Duchamp playing chess in 1952. (Kay Bell Reynal photo in the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art.)

Marcel Duchamp seems to continuously appear throughout the early-mid twentieth century and although he was linked to various movements, he always stood apart and managed to work on the periphery of these artist groups. Duchamp formed alliances with other artists with whom he would work on projects, or in similar ways, but he always managed to progress and move his work forward - an exemplar of the "avant garde" artist where to be avant garde meant to always be ahead of the crowd, to continue to develop and move forward in the creation of artworks.

Not only was Duchamp an artist, he also worked as a librarian, and conducted various experiments combining art & science in kinetic artworks. He also was well known as a chess player, and had supposedly abandoned art in the later years of his life to pursue chess and writing (although as we will see further on, he was still creating art in secret, just in a different form).

As you have seen from Robert's lectures, Duchamp's work appears as part of the following movements:

  • Cubism
  • Dada (New York)
  • Surrealism

He was also linked to Conceptual Art which would form the foundations of the Fluxus movement (we will cover this in a few weeks).

Here is a small selection of Duchamp's work in a timeline format to show you the progression of ideas, methods and techniques he employed in his work, demonstrating why this work is still so important and significant today. The works discussed here are examples of Duchamp's move away from what he called "retinal art", that is: art which is aesthetically beautiful, in favour of aesthetic experience merged with process and scientific methods. One could say that many of his works are experiments of process, conceptual works, with complex layers of interpretation and meaning.



Bicycle Wheel


Duchamp's Bicycle wheel in his studio


3 Standard Stoppages




Network of Stoppages


These works demonstrate the early use of chance and "contingency" in Duchamp's work. The idea that random procedures could produce creative outcomes is a method that the Surrealists employed and many artists have also used this since.


1915 - 1923

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même), usually referred to as The Large Glass (Le Grand Verre)

large glass

large glass

Duchamp worked on this piece from 1915 to 1923, creating two panes of glass within which were materials such as lead foil, fuse wire, and dust. This major artworks combines chance procedures, plotted perspective studies, and laborious craftsmanship. Duchamp's ideas for the Glass began in 1913, and he made numerous notes and studies, as well as preliminary works for the piece. The notes reflect the creation of unique rules of physics, and myth which describes the work.

There is a publication titled The Writings of Marcel Duchamp which contains a great deal of information about Duchamp's methods and his thought processes in the creation of his work.

Sanouillet, Michel & Peterson, Elmer (eds) 1973, The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, Da Capo Press

Note the cracks in the glass - this was an unexpected "contingency" when the piece was damaged during transport. Duchamp chose to keep the cracks in the work.



With Hidden Noise


With Hidden Noise by Marcel Duchamp,1916. Ready-made sculpture of brass, string and unknown object
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection.

This piece is an object/sculpture created from a ball of twine, two brass plates, four screws and a hidden object placed inside by one of Duchamp's friends - not even Duchamp himself knows what's inside this object. The work is one of what Duchamp referred to as an "assisted readymade". The readymade involves taking ordinary, often utilitarian objects not generally considered to be art and transforming them, by adding to them, changing them, or (as in the case of his most famous work Fountaine) simply renaming them and placing them in a gallery setting.




The most well known example of Duchamp's association with Dada was his submission of Fountaine, a urinal, to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit in 1917. Artworks in the Independent Artists shows were not selected by jury, and all pieces submitted were displayed. However, the show committee insisted that Fountaine was not art, and rejected it from the show. This caused an uproar amongst the Dadaists, and led Duchamp to resign from the board of the Independent Artists.

This work is important as a famous "readymade" - as previously discussed in earlier lectures. You can see that already at this early stage of his creative practice, Duchamp is using objects and assembling them within a context to create a work of art.


The Blind Man


Along with Henri-Pierre Roché and Beatrice Wood, Duchamp published a Dada magazine in New York, titled The Blind Man, which included art, literature, humour and commentary. This magazine was also used to promote the Fountaine.

Collaborating with others was something that Duchamp often did as a sideline to his solo work.





L.H.O.O.Q.  is an assisted readymade first conceived in 1919. In L.H.O.O.Q. the objet trouvé ("found object") is a cheap postcard reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa onto which Duchamp drew a moustache and beard in pencil and appended the title (although there is some speculation as to whether the Mona Lisa has in some way been altered to include Duchamp's features).

The name of the piece, L.H.O.O.Q. (in French èl ache o o qu), is a pun, since the letters when pronounced in French form the sentence "Elle a chaud au cul", which can be roughly translated as "Her arse is hot", or more colloquially, "She is really horny".

This is just one of many examples where Duchamp used humour and provocative content to cause dissent and question the meaning of art.



Rrose Sélavy

rrose selavy

Rrose Sélavy, photograph by Man Ray 1921

"Rrose Sélavy", also spelled Rose Sélavy, was one of Duchamp's pseudonyms. The name, also a pun, sounds like the French phrase "Eros, c'est la vie", which may be translated as "Eros, such is life". It has also been read as "arroser la vie" ("to make a toast to life"). Sélavy emerged in 1921 in a series of photographs by Man Ray showing Duchamp dressed as a woman. Through the 1920s Man Ray and Duchamp collaborated on more photos of Sélavy. Duchamp later used the name as on written pieces and signed several creations with it.

The idea of the artist taking on an "avatar" is relevant today with our "new media" technologies and artists that work in mixed reality environments. One of the best Second Life virtual artists I have encountered is an anonymous artist called "Selavy Oh" - whose name is an obvious homage to Duchamp and recognises his profound contribution to contemporary art.

Selavy Oh builds interactive environments in Second Life and performs works that use the virtual installation. "She" is one of the best builders in this environment, and the links to Duchamp occur in the idea of questioning the authorship of the work, in the assemblage and re-assemblage of "objects" in the virtual world, and the use of an avatar or pseudonym in one's work.

selavy ohselavy oh selavy oh


Why not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? is a 1921 "readymade" sculpture. Duchamp considered this to be an "assisted readymade" because the original object has been altered by the artist. The meaning of this is that the birdcage has been "assisted" by the addition of the other objects. They consist of 152 white cubes (made of marble, but resembling sugar cubes), a mercury thermometer, a piece of cuttlebone, and a porcelain dish.


Why not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? 1921



Rotorelief (optical works)


Rotorelief 1935

"Among his scientific ventures included the development of the illusionistic Rotorelief spinning circular geometric patterns. Although Italian optical scientist discovered and named this optical phenomenon "the stereo-kinetic effect" in 1924, it is clear that Duchamp had discovered the phenomena in early 1920. It is clear that Duchamp understood the mathematics of this method of producing the illusion of volume. He wrote, " I only had to use two circumferences and make them turn on a third center".

Merrit, R.K. 2003, "Intentions: Logical and Subversive: The Art of Marcel Duchamp,  Concept Visualization, and Immersive Experience" on]


Marcel Duchamp Rotorelief on Youtube

Marcel Duchamp's Roto Reliefs from Matt Barnes on Vimeo.




Paris Air

paris air

Marcel Duchamp, Paris Air, 1919/1949

This work is interesting as it is an "assisted readymade" but there are those that question the "readymade" nature of the Readymades because there are historians that are currently claiming that Duchamp is a fraud because he had objects such as these, the snow shovel, the L.H.O.O.Q., and the cage from Why Sneeze Rrose Selavy custom made to specification for the purpose of creating these artworks. The arguments for and against these positions are still continuing. Suffice it to say, Duchamp is still controversial even now over 45 years after his death.

If you research the Melbourne artist Rosslyn Piggott, you will see her homage to Duchamp's Paris Air in her series "suspended breath"(1996)


Rosslyn Piggott, Suspended Breath


Rosslyn Piggott, 100 cups


1935 - 1940 & 1950 - 1960



Marcel Duchamp, Boîte (The big box), (image with permission from the museum (Universalmuseum Joanneum))

The Boîtes en Valises by Marcel Duchamp, are a series of re-interpreted artworks as a set of miniatures – a “museum in a suitcase”. Duchamp made a number of these artworks which include small reproduced versions of his famous artworks such as Nude Descending a Staircase, The Large Glass and Fountain. These miniature works are assembled in fold-out boxes or suitcases with individually labelled contents. These "artworks as assemblage" embody a "recombinant poetics" because they are a portable remix of previous artworks, and at the same time - a preservation strategy: stored; emulated; migrated; re-interpreted; consisting of multiple copies in multiple locations.

Conceptually, Duchamp’s work can be compared to many areas of new media art practice such as the use of appropriation in his “Readymades” involving the remix of found items in sculptural form, and the remix of his own content in the Boîtes en Valises. As Okwei Enwezor, the internationally important South African curator (International Center of Photography in New York) and art director (including the Documenta 11 exhibition in Germany 1998 – 2002) recognises:

La boîte–en-valise is not only a sly critique of the museum as institution and the artwork as artifact, it is fundamentally also about form and concept, as ‘it reveals the rules of a practice that enable statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification' [Foucault]. 

P.14 from Enwezor, Okwei 2008, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art, International Center of Photography, New York, USA and Steidl Publishers, Göttingen, Germany

These Valises operate as analogue multiplicities and assemblages, the content now distributed across many global locations, exhibited in many physical spaces over many years. Duchamp may have claimed that these works were financially motivated “small business” and a dismissal of museum archiving practice & commercialisation of art, but it has been suggested that underlying motives may have included anxiety about the vulnerability of artworks such as The Large Glass, which sustained damage during transportation. The Valises are an autobiographical assemblage, a “life-long summation”, and an archival collection – possibly a post-custodial method of preservation for creative content in a distributed form.


In a couple of weeks we will look at Fluxus and "Fluxkits" and how Duchamp influenced these artists.

This is important to remember as we will be looking at how remixed and reproducible media become an important component in art and design in the late 20C and early 21C. Duchamp is still referenced often in contemporary art because of his profound contribution to art of the twentieth century. Something to keep in mind is that Duchamp was clever, often used humour and wit in his work, and enjoyed stirring up debate by being provocative - many artists since have looked to Duchamp in the creation of seemingly more radical art-forms that appear later in the 20th Century.

Some resonant and provocative quotes from Duchamp:

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.

Destruction is also creation.

Art is not about itself but the attention we bring to it.

Marcel Duchamp

Sanouillet, Michel & Peterson, Elmer (eds) 1973, The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, Da Capo Press



Étant donnés 


This is Duchamp's last major art work. It surprised the art world because most believed he had given up art for chess almost 25 years earlier. It is a "tableau" (scene), visible only through a pair of peep holes (one for each eye) in a wooden door, of a nude woman lying on her back with her face hidden and legs spread holding a gas lamp in the air in one hand against a landscape backdrop.

Duchamp worked secretly on the piece from 1946 to 1966 in his studio in New York. It is composed of an old wooden door, bricks, velvet, twigs, a female form made of parchment, glass, linoleum, an assortment of lights, a landscape composed of hand-painted and photographed elements and an electric motor housed in a cookie tin which rotates a perforated disc. Duchamp prepared a "Manual of Instructions" in a 4-ring binder explaining and illustrating how to assemble and disassemble the piece.

The piece was created with the intention of having it displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it was eventually moved. According to Duchamp's wishes, it wasn't until 1969, after Duchamp's death in 1968, that the Museum revealed the work of art to the public.

"As Duchamp told an interviewer back in 1955: 'You should wait for 50 . . . or a hundred years for your true public. That is the only public that interests me.' "



Some significant artists that have been influenced by Duchamp:

  • Joseph Cornell
  • Alexander Calder
  • Andy Warhol (interesting to note that Warhol owned two of the Boîte en Valise pieces)
  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Jasper Johns
  • Joseph Beuys & many of the Fluxus artists (see next week's notes for more details)
  • Ai Weiwei


Joseph Cornell

Cornell is an American artist that was working around the time of Duchamp - in fact it was Duchamp that "discovered" Cornell and encouraged him to show his work as Cornell was quite reclusive and shy. The Surrealists tried to claim him as one of their own (he was considered to be the first and greatest American Surrealist), but he never claimed to be a Surrealist even though he was influenced by Duchamp and specifically the work of Max Ernst.

He is strikingly different to Duchamp in many ways - he worked in virtual seclusion and rarely travelled, he was a loner and didn't collaborate on projects with other artists (other than some of his films), and he was more of an "outsider" that created work more instinctively whereas Duchamp was very intellectual and scientific in his methods and processes.

Despite this, the similarities such as the surrealist technique of unexpected juxtaposition, assemblage, use of found objects and remix are the very things that link these artists and make them so relevant today.


Mixed Media Assemblage

Cornell is an artist widely known for creating assemblages in wooden boxes using collage techniques and found objects. He demonstrates through his work, the "analogue remix" as a means for creating new, recombinant narratives. Works such as those shown below involve the juxtaposition of images and objects framed within glass-covered wooden boxes. These delicate objects contain many potential stories – imagined histories and symbolic spectacle of the items within (where did they come from, and why are they all here together?), and lead us to invent new meanings for the elements brought together by Cornell’s artistic intent.

There is a very delicate, magical and poetic element to Cornell's work. He often searched the city of New York for curious objects to bring home to show his disabled brother, and somehow this began the creation of an art form that is now influential and much copied.


Tilly Losch 
c. 1935 (100 Kb); Construction, 10 x 9 1/4 x 2 1/8 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago 



Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) 
1936 (140 Kb); Construction, 15 3/4 x 14 1/4 x 5 7/16 in; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT 



Defense d'Afficher Object 
1939 (140 Kb); Construction, 8 15/16 x 13 15/16 x 2 1/8 in; Collection Denise and Andrew Saul 



Object (Abeilles) 
1940 (190 Kb); Construction, 9 1/8 x 14 1/8 x 3 7/16 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Wiseman, Beverly Hills, CA 



Untitled (The Hotel Eden) 
c. 1945 (140 Kb); Construction, 15 1/8 x 15 3/4 x 4 3/4 in; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa 



Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall) 
1945-46 (110 Kb); Construction, 20 1/2 x 16 x 3 1/2 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman, Chicago 



Untitled (Grand Owl Habitat) 
c. 1946 (120 Kb); Construction, 24 x 13 1/8 x 4 13/16 in; Collection Mr. and Mrs. Richard L. Kaplin, Toledo, OH



Untitled (Medici Princess) 
c. 1948 (150 Kb); Construction, 17 5/8 x 11 1/8 x 4 3/8 in; Private collection 



Object (Roses des Vents) 
1942-53 (130 Kb); Construction, 2 5/8 x 21 1/4 x 10 3/8 in; The Museum of Modern Art, New York 



Untitled (Hotel du Cygne) 
c. 1952-55 (170 Kb); Construction, 19 3/16 x 12 3/4 x 4 1/2 in; Castelli Feigen Corcoran 


Yayoi Kusama


It is interesting to note that Cornell had a long friendship with the artist Yayoi Kusama - an installation artist who has certainly become very prominent in recent years for her artwork that includes collaborations with designers to create store-front assemblages.

Is there an influence from Cornell in Kusama's work?


Kusama at her 'Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show' exhibition, Gertrude Stein Gallery, New York, 1963
Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.


Yayoi Kusama Window At The Louis Vuitton Store On Fifth Avenue, 2012



Cornell is not so well known as a film maker but it is his lesser-known films such as Rose Hobart (1936) that have more recently resurfaced and found resonance in the new-media arts community for their recombinant poetics (Figure 1.02).


Joseph Cornell, “Rose Hobart”, still image from the film. 1936, image capture from UBUweb website

Rose Hobart (1936)

Rose Hobart is a remix (what we would now call a “post-production” remix), of footage taken from the 1931 film East of Borneo – a “jungle B-film” starring the actress Rose Hobart.

Cornell sampled the film, removing over two-thirds of the content (almost every shot without Hobart), until all he was left with was a strange and eerie film, tinted blue to signify the world of dreams. Many of Cornell’s works in film and the mixed media assemblages, involved “mythologised” movie actresses of the day. These films were not shown to large audiences at the time, Cornell was rather reclusive and not prone to exhibiting his work. It was through Duchamp that the Surrealists came to know him.

When Rose Hobart was shown at a screening in New York in 1936, many of the Surrealists came to view it as they were in town for the first Surrealist exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. Salvador Dalí knocked over the projector and stormed out during the screening (reportedly) claiming that Cornell had stolen the idea from his dreams.

This film is an early example of remix and reinterpretation using mechanical technology rather than digital technology. It is also an example of how the artwork is a part of a continuum of creative practice. If not for Cornell’s remix, Rose Hobart the actress, and the “B-grade jungle film” might have slipped into obscurity. Many new media artists have found meaning in Cornell’s work: he and Duchamp form a starting point in the lineage of modern artists working with found materials, remixed media, and assemblage.

No one made films even remotely similar to Cornell's for almost thirty years, and even now the perfect opacity of his montage remains unrivalled. 

other films by Cornell

These are two of the most engaging films because of the method of remix/assemblage, and the colour and imagery used:

By Night with Torch and Spear (1942)

Gnir Rednow (1960)


Some significant artists that have been influenced by Cornell:

  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Andy Warhol
  • Robert Rauschenberg
  • Joseph Beuys & many of the Fluxus artists (see next week's notes for more details)
  • Yayoi Kusama
  • William Gibson (writer - read the book Count Zero, part 2 in his first trilogy of novels)
  • Charles Simic (poet)



One of the reasons for showing these two artists today is to provide you with a conceptual basis for much of contemporary creative practice that occurs today. Some of the contemporary practice these artists have influenced include:

  • assemblage
  • collage
  • installation
  • op art
  • conceptual art
  • performance art
  • video art
  • remix & recombinant art
  • use of the archive in art



Questions to consider

  1. What is an iconoclast?

  2. What art movements did Duchamp's creative practice span?

  3. How does Duchamp define "retinal art" and why did he turn against it?

  4. Do you think Duchamp's "readymades" were indeed "readymade"? What is an "assisted readymade"?

  5. How would you describe the work of Joseph Cornell? Where do you see his place in the continuum of modern art history? What do you think of the term "outsider" in relation to art history?

  6. How do you think Cornell's work influenced artists like Warhol or Kusama?

  7. Can you think of any artists/designers other than those discussed in today's lecture that have been influenced by Cornell or Duchamp?


Manifesto Project

You should be researching manifestos in your own time and in the workshop to begin forming an idea of your own personal manifesto content and design.

take a look at this article on the Smashing Magazine website:



The Marcel Duchamp Online Studies Journal:

MOMA - Duchamp's Boîte en Valise:

Ubuweb - Joseph Cornell:

Kusama: http://interactiveness/looknowseeforever/essays/infinite-consciousness-directed-at-the-cosmos/


Duchamp's influence:

Joseph Cornell:

Duchamp & Cornell: