Sturtevant’s Extrapolated Boîte-en-valise

Lot 92: Sturtevant, Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1967, gouache on photo on cardboard, I think, 20.5 x 15.2 cm, selling at Bonham’s Cornette de St Cyr on 10 Dec 2023 [update: sold for €10,240]

In 1967, Sturtevant restaged Duchamp’s photos of his Readymades in his studio, in her Parisian apartment. And then she repeated Duchamp’s reworking and retouching of the photos for his Boîte-en-valise. And she mounted them on cardboard and added captions & titles.

Lot 91: Sturtevant, Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1967, gouache on photo on cardboard, I think, 22.8 x 17.7 cm, selling at Bonham’s Cornette de St Cyr on 10 Dec 2023 [update: sold for €10,240]

Belgian dealer Ronny van de Velde, who I think is the seller putting these three works into the Bonham’s Cornette de St Cyr auction in Brussels next month, compared Sturtevant’s restaging and overpainting to Duchamp’s own creation of the images, which went from retouched photo to pochoired collotype to help highlight the readymades themselves.

Sturtevant’s photos are clearly not Duchamp’s; she didn’t rephotograph Duchamp’s images and rework them. They are composed to match, though, and the match is pretty close. [Though there is no Fountain peeking out from the shadows in the one above, a nontrivial difference.] Did Sturtevant really remake Duchamp’s lost shovel and hat rack in Paris for a snapshot, and then get rid of them? I find that hard to envision. [next day update: reader, she did not. She had a shovel to exhibit in 1973 at her Everson Museum show. Stay tuned.]

Lot 90: Sturtevant, Sculpture de Voyage (after Duchamp’s), 1969, gouache on photo on cardboard, I think, 23 x 20 cm, selling at Bonham’s Cornette de St Cyr on 10 Dec 2023 [update: sold for €10,240]

Did Sturtevant cut a bunch of shower caps into a web and hang it perfectly to match every strip and highlight of Duchamp’s Sculpture de Voyage, yet still have to collage a sofa/table/lap set up?

Duchamp’s photo of Sculpture de Voyage, 1915 (L), via toutfait, and Sturtevant’s, 1969, (R) via bonham’s

I think it would be easier for Sturtevant to have painted the readymades onto her photographed sets. And I think she was looking at Duchamp’s images when she did. And though the dimensions, mounting, and labeling all seem like clear references to it, I think Sturtevant made these objects by referring to the images in a Boîte-en-valise.

Two broken arms and Sculpture de Voyage surround an image of Unhappy Readymade, a photo of a mathematics textbook Duchamp had his sister Suzanne hang up in the rain. image via Phillips

As it happens, these photos are all mounted together in one folio. The Boîte-en-valise folios are organized thematically; these early Readymades are together, but on the inside, and almost never exhibited. Or rather, almost never photographed. For all the hype it is surprisingly difficult to find any systematic documentation of a Boîte-en-valise. The works Sturtevant repeated appear for a split second, upside-down, in a hype video Phillips made for a Series B Boîte that was withdrawn in 2021.

Screenshot of Jackie Monnier Matisse Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise Series F, with the Readymades folio opened in the foreground, via YouTube

I literally had to watch an unboxing video of Mathieu Mercier’s 2017 Boîte-en-valise facsimile to figure out that the Readymades on the outside are the bottle rack, Porte-bouteille, on the front, and Pharmacie, the slightly altered drugstore lithograph landscape, on the back.

Sturtevant’s friend David Hays’ mother, Mary Sisler, had assembled a huge collection of Duchamp objects, including a deluxe limited edition of the Box. Did she have similar access to one in Paris? Or did she just need it for the final touches?

These three mounted images suggest the possibility of Sturtevant making an entire Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise. Does it exist? Does it need to? Sturtevant already didn’t repeat the fourth image in the folio: the far lesser known but equally lost, Unhappy Readymade (1915). The rainsoaked and windtorn geometry textbook left out to ruin by Suzanne Duchamp is known only through a photo, which in turn is known only to people with free access to a Boîte-en-valise. Perhaps Sturtevant doesn’t need to make more than 3 of 69 componenents to get across the idea of a Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise. In which case, yes, it is one of the masterpieces of 20th century art.

Previously, related: Double Double