Marcel Duchamp (American (born France), 1887 - 1968), Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912
Oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 inches (147 x 89.2 cm). The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection
© Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2023
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) peels away the traditional beauty of the nude in art, its carnality, even its identifiable sex. Instead, the painting aims to expand our perception of the human body in motion, a topic of fascination for Duchamp around this time. Though the work exemplifies his extremely original engagement with Cubism, it also precipitated his break with the Cubists. When Duchamp presented it for exhibition in Paris in 1912, fellow Cubists on the hanging committee tried to exclude it. They may have objected to the idea of painting dynamic movement, or the unfamiliar subject of a nude on a flight of stairs, or the title written in block letters at the lower margin. When the work was finally presented at the Armory Show, which made the case for modern art to large audiences in New York in 1913, it met with a hostile public reaction—and cemented Duchamp’s reputation as an artistic provocateur.
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