Classified As Art

French Military Paper, (from) Marcel Duchamp, 1918, offered for sale at Christie’s 0n 28 Feb

Marcel Duchamp’s French Military Paper, a readymade of sorts, unpublished until after the artist’s death, and shown only once, as Untitled Ready-Made, in Zurich and Paris [I guess that’s twice, but the same Dada show], is for sale at Christie’s in a couple of weeks. It is a checklist Duchamp made—do we know he made it, or did he just bring it home?—while working as a secretary to a captain in the French Purchasing Commission in New York:

The sheet records the names of four military attachés in the French Purchasing Commission who arrived on 1 January 1918, and required suitable lodging during their stay in New York. The subsequent inked crossing out of the names, and the final X in red over the height of the typescript, suggest that all such considerations had been attended to, and there was nothing further to be done. Possibly contravening whatever security precautions may have then been in force, Duchamp took the document home. No other work of this kind appears in the artist’s oeuvre.

This was a period when Duchamp was exploring the nature of the Readymade, classifying things by signing them. Things like the Woolworth Building, a mural painted by someone else in the residents’ restaurant at the Hotel des Artistes, and, apparently, some expired paperwork from his temp job. And whether it mattered that something was classified as “from” or “by” him. By the time he got to the Boite en Valise, of course, he said, “de ou par,” why choose?

Which is interesting—or at least significant, because this work seems intentionally and almost radically boring, about as non-retinal as you can get—and maybe the reason Christie’s had to add the torn-from-today’s-headlines speculation that maybe Duchamp took classified documents home with him? The ghost of Marcel Duchamp appearing at Mar-a-Lago and saying, “Don’t drag me into this!”

[update: sold for a bid of 110,000, GBP138,600 with premium.]

28 Feb 2023, London, Lot 128 Marcel Duchamp, French Military Paper, est GBP 100,000–200,000 [christies]